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Cancer Pain: Don't Suffer in Silence

Article date: December 10, 2009

Pain is not always a part of having cancer, but when it is, there's no need to suffer in silence. Many treatments are available to help manage cancer pain so you can get on with your daily activities. The key is to talk to your doctor about your pain so you can explore the options together.

Cancer pain can be caused by a number of factors. Pinpointing the cause can help your doctor find the most appropriate treatment. For instance, pain that's caused by the cancer spreading to bones can often be treated with radiation, while pain from surgery or other procedures is often relieved with medicine.

Some medicines used for cancer pain may already be in your medicine cabinet. Aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are all common treatments for cancer pain -- though you should talk with your doctor about how much to take and how often to take them before using any of these to relieve your pain. Even over-the-counter medications can sometimes cause dangerous side effects or interact badly with other cancer treatments you may be having.

For more severe pain, you may need a prescription medication. Your doctor may prescribe a stronger version of the medicines described above, or you may need an opioid like morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, or codeine. These drugs are also known as narcotics.

Some people are hesitant to take these medications because they are afraid of becoming addicted, but addiction is rare. It is true that some people develop a tolerance to opioids; they need to take higher doses to get the same effect. But this is not the same as addiction. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have concerns about addiction to your pain medication.

Controlling Your Pain

It's a good idea to keep track of your pain, so your doctor can develop a more effective plan to treat it. A pain diary can help you remember when and where you felt pain, how severe it was, and whether certain activities or medicines helped control it.

Once you have a pain control plan, make the most of it by following these suggestions:

  • Take your medicine on a regular schedule, even if you aren't having pain at the precise time you're due for your next dose. Do not skip doses. 
  • Do not run out of your pain medicine. It may take a few days to get your opioid medications, so start the refill process in advance. 
  • Never take someone else's medicine. It may not be appropriate for your condition, and it may affect you differently. 
  • Don't use old pain medicine or medicine left over from other conditions. These drugs may not be right for your current condition, even if they helped in the past. 
  • Report any side effects from your pain medicine to your doctor. Some side effects can cause serious problems if they aren't dealt with right away.


Medicines Aren't the Only Option

Medicines aren't the only option for treating cancer pain, though they are the most commonly used. Other techniques, including acupuncture, massage, relaxation, and even hypnosis may be used along with, or sometimes instead of, traditional methods.

If you're interested in these methods, let your doctor know. You may need a referral to a different kind of professional to try these techniques safely.

  • For more information about managing cancer pain, see our section on Pain.


Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

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