Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain

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What if I need a different pain medicine?

If one medicine or treatment doesn’t work, there’s almost always another one that can be tried. If the schedule or way that you’re taking medicine doesn’t work for you, it can be changed, too. Talk to your doctor or nurse about finding the pain medicine or method that works best for you. You may need a different pain medicine, a combination of pain medicines, or a change in the dose or timing of your pain medicines if:

  • Your pain is not relieved.
  • Your pain medicine doesn’t start working within the time your doctor said it would.
  • Your pain medicine doesn’t work for the length of time your doctor said it would.
  • You have breakthrough pain more than 4 times a day, it’s getting worse, or it’s not relieved with the short-acting medicine you are taking for it.
  • You have side effects. Side effects such as sleepiness, nausea, and itching usually go away after your body adjusts to the medicine. Let your doctor know if these bother you.
  • You have serious side effects such as trouble breathing, dizziness, and rashes. Call your doctor right away if any of these start.
  • The schedule or the way you’re taking the medicine does not work for you.
  • Pain interferes with your normal activities, such as eating, sleeping, working, and sex.

To help make the most of your pain control plan:

  • Take your pain medicine on a regular schedule (around the clock) to help control chronic pain. Take it when it’s time to take it – even if you’re not having pain.
  • Do not skip doses of your scheduled medicine. The more pain you have, the harder it is to control.
  • If you have breakthrough pain, use your short-acting medicine as instructed. Don’t wait for the pain to get worse – if you do, it can be harder to control.
  • Be sure only one doctor prescribes your pain medicine. If another doctor changes your medicine, the two doctors should discuss your treatment with each other.
  • Don’t run out of pain medicine. Remember that prescriptions are needed for opioid pain medicines – the doctor can’t call them in, and drugstores don’t always have them in stock. It can take a few days to get the medicine, so give yourself time for delays.
  • Store pain medicines safely away from children, pets, and others who might take them.
  • Never take someone else’s medicine. Medicines that helped a friend or relative may not be right for you.
  • Do not use old pain medicine or medicine leftover from other problems. Drugs that worked for you in the past may not be right for you now.
  • Pain medicines affect different people in different ways. A very small dose may work for you, while someone else may need to take a much larger dose to get pain relief.
  • Remember, your pain control plan can be changed at any time.

Last Medical Review: 06/10/2014
Last Revised: 06/10/2014