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Some cancers of unknown primary can be treated effectively or even cured, but most are advanced cancers for which treatments are unlikely to provide long-term benefits. It’s very important that people with advanced cancer of unknown primary (CUP) are aware that even if the cancer can’t be cured, there are treatments available to help prevent or relieve pain and other symptoms. More information about these can be found in our document Advanced Cancer.

Pain is a significant concern for patients with cancer of unknown primary. There are proven ways to relieve pain due to cancer of unknown primary using a combination of medicines and, in some cases, surgical procedures. Patients should not hesitate to take advantage of these treatments, which means they must tell their doctors if they have pain. Otherwise the doctor can’t help. For most patients, treatment with morphine or drugs related to it (called opioids because they are related to opium) can reduce pain considerably while still allowing them to function well. For the treatment to be effective, the pain medicines must be given regularly on a schedule, not just when the pain becomes severe. Several long-acting forms of morphine and other long-acting opioid drugs have been developed that need only be given once or twice a day.

For more information on pain, what can be done about it, and how to keep track of it, see the “Cancer-related Pain” section of our website, or our document “Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain.”

Last Medical Review: 07/02/2014
Last Revised: 01/27/2016