Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain

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Developing a plan for pain control

The first step in developing a pain control plan is talking with your cancer care team about your pain. You need to be able to describe your pain to your family or friends, too. You may want to have your family or friends help you talk to your cancer care team about your pain, especially if you’re too tired or in too much pain to talk to them yourself.

Using a pain scale is a helpful way to describe how much pain you’re feeling. To use the Pain Intensity Scale shown here, try to assign a number from 0 to 10 to your pain level. If you have no pain, use a 0. As the numbers get higher, they stand for pain that’s getting worse. A 10 means the worst pain you can imagine.

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

No pain

Worst pain

For instance, you could say, “Right now, my pain is a 7 on a scale of 0 to 10.”

You can use the rating scale to describe:

  • How bad your pain is at its worst
  • What your pain is like most of the time
  • How bad your pain is at its least
  • How your pain changes with treatment

Tell your cancer care team and your family or friends:

  • Where you feel pain
  • What it feels like – for instance, sharp, dull, throbbing, gnawing, burning, shooting, steady
  • How strong the pain is (using the 0 to 10 scale)
  • How long it lasts
  • What eases the pain
  • What makes the pain worse
  • How the pain affects your daily life
  • What medicines you’re taking for the pain and how much relief you get from them

Your cancer care team may also need to know:

  • All the medicines you’re taking now, including vitamins, minerals, herbs, supplements, and non-prescription medicines
  • The pain medicines you’ve taken in the past, including what has and has not worked for you
  • Any known allergies to medicines, foods, dyes, or additives

When working on a pain control plan, it helps to take all your medicines, vitamins, minerals, herbs, and non-prescription drugs with you. Show them to your cancer care team and explain how you take them.

Questions you may want to ask about pain medicine include:

  • How much medicine should I take? (What’s the dose?)
  • How often can I take it?
  • How do I take it?
  • If my pain is not relieved, can I take more? If so, how much?
  • Should I call you before increasing the dose?
  • What if I forget to take it or take it too late?
  • Should I take the pain medicine with food?
  • How much liquid should I drink with the medicine?
  • How long does it take the medicine to start working?
  • Is it safe to drink alcohol, drive, or operate machinery after I’ve taken this pain medicine?
  • What other medicines can I take with the pain medicine?
  • What medicines should I stop taking or not take while I’m taking the pain medicine?
  • What side effects from the medicine are possible? How can I prevent them? What should I do if I have them?

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