There are many causes of pain in children with cancer. Cancer cells in the blood or solid tumors in the body can cause bone or tissue pain. Some side effects of cancer treatment, such as mouth or skin sores, can be painful. Tests, like bone marrow aspirates and lumbar punctures, can be painful.

It isimportant to tell your healthcare team if your child has pain, so they can determine the cause and work with you to create a plan to decrease the pain as much as possible.

Children of different ages understand and respond to pain differently.

How children understand pain as they grow

0-3 months
  • Children do not seem to understand pain
  • Memory for pain is likely, but not proven
  • May show pain by kicking or crying
3 -6 months
  • Sadness and anger are a part of the pain response
6-18 months
  • Memory for pain exists
  • Fearful of painful situations
  • Use words like “owie,” “ouchie,” or “boo-boo” to describe pain
18-24 months
  • Use the word "hurt" to describe pain
  • Try to avoid situations or objects that hurt them in the past
  • Seek hugs, kisses, and medicine to deal with pain
2-3 years
  • Can describe pain and explain what caused it
3-5 years
  • Can describe the level of pain (no pain, a little pain, lots of pain)
  • Will use distractions and play to relieve pain
5-7 years
  • Can more clearly describe levels of pain
  • Can use coping techniques to distract self from pain
  • Use positive self-statements, such as “I’m OK”
7-10 years
  • Can explain why something hurts
11 years and older
  • Can explain that pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong

Use of pain medicines

Always talk with your healthcare provider before giving your child pain medication at home. The type and amount of pain medication and how it is given will depend on the type of pain, your child’s weight, and whether or not your child can take medicine by mouth. The use of a tool, such as a pain scale, may be helpful in monitoring your child’s pain. Ask your healthcare provider about which pain scale they recommend. The goal is to make your child as comfortable as possible.

Helping your child to be more comfortable

Parents usually know how to make their child comfortable. You know your child the best. Tell the members of the healthcare team if you think your child has pain and what has helped to make the pain better in the past.

Some ways that you can help your child feel more comfortable include:

Distraction - Help your child think or focus on something fun or relaxing. Watching a movie and listening to music are examples of distraction. Visual imagery - Have your child person themself in a safe, relaxing, or fun place.
  • Deep breathing - Help the body to relax and can also serve as a distraction.
Using any of these methods may help your child feel more relaxed and have less pain. Ask a member of your healthcare team to talk with you about ways to help your child be more comfortable.