Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain

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Developing a plan for pain control

The first step in developing a plan is talking with your doctor, nurse, and pharmacist 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 health care team about your pain, especially if you are too tired or in too much pain to talk to them yourself.

Using a pain scale is helpful in describing how much pain you’re feeling. To use the Pain Intensity Scale below, 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.












No pain

Worst pain

For example, 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
  • How bad your pain is most of the time
  • How bad your pain is at its least
  • How your pain changes with treatment

Tell your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, and 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 are taking for the pain and how much relief you get from them

Your doctor, nurse, and pharmacist may also need to know:

  • The medicines you are taking now, including vitamins, minerals, herbs, and non-prescription medicines
  • The pain medicines you have taken in the past, including what has worked and not worked for you. You may want to keep records of this information.
  • Any known allergies to medicines, foods, dyes, or additives

When you go to the doctor, bring all your medicines, vitamins, minerals, herbs, and non-prescription drugs with you. Show them to the doctor and explain how you take them. Questions you may want to ask your doctor or nurse about pain medicine:

  • How much medicine should I take? How often can I take it? How do I take it?
  • If my pain is not relieved, can I take more?
  • Does the dose need to be increased? If so, by 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 my 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 have taken this pain medicine?
  • What other medicines can I take with the pain medicine?
  • What medicines should I stop taking or avoid 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: 06/10/2014
Last Revised: 06/10/2014