Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain

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How is pain medicine given?

Some people think that if their pain becomes severe, they’ll need to get injections or “shots” of pain medicine. In fact, shots are rarely given to relieve cancer pain. There are many other ways you can take pain medicine.

Oral – means the drug is taken by mouth, either by being swallowed or absorbed in the mouth. Medicine is given as a liquid, pill, capsule, or in transmucosal form (the drug is in a lozenge, “sucker,” or spray and absorbs directly through the tissues of the mouth).

Never crush, break, or open extended-release pills or capsules. Talk to your doctor if you have trouble swallowing your pain medicines. There are many different ways to take them.

Skin patch – a clear, sticky patch placed on the skin. It slowly but constantly releases medicine through the skin for 2 to 3 days.

Rectal suppositories – medicine that dissolves in the rectum and is absorbed by the body


  • Subcutaneous (SC) injection – Medicine is put just under the skin using a small needle.
  • Intravenous (IV) injection – Medicine goes right into a vein through a needle, port, or catheter.
  • Intrathecal and epidural injections – Medicine is put into the fluid around the spinal cord (intrathecal) or into the space around the spinal cord (epidural).

Pump, or patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) – With this method, you have control over the amount of pain medicine you take. When you need pain relief, you press a button to get a pre-set dose of pain medicine through a computerized pump. (The pump carefully controls how much you can get at a time, so you can’t take too much.) The pump is connected to a small tube going into your body. The medicine goes into a vein, just under the skin, or into the area around the spine.

Last Medical Review: 07/15/2015
Last Revised: 07/15/2015