Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain

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Treating cancer pain

Your doctor will want to find out more about what’s causing your pain because that will affect how it’s treated. Drugs, procedures, cancer treatments, or even surgeries may be used in special ways to manage your pain.

If you have severe pain, your cancer care team will try to find the treatment plan that best relieves your pain with the fewest side effects. You’ll need to stay in touch and let them know how the pain treatment is working and how you’re doing day to day. The goal is an effective pain control plan that works for you.

Cancer pain is usually treated with drugs called analgesics, also known as pain relievers. Many pain relievers are available without a prescription (for example, aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen). These medicines are called non-prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics. OTC pain medicines can be used alone for mild pain, and along with other medicines for more severe pain. For other pain medicines, you’ll need a prescription.

Check with your cancer care team before you take any medicine for pain, even OTC medicines, because some of them can interact with cancer drugs or worsen certain problems. Medicines are mostly safe when they’re used properly, but they can be very harmful if not managed carefully.

In some cases, medicines and non-medical treatments may not work well. But there are special pain treatments that can often be used for these kinds of cancer pain. For instance, things like:

  • Radiation to shrink the tumor
  • Surgery to remove all or part of the tumor
  • Nerve blocks, in which medicine is injected into or around a nerve or into the spine to block the pain
  • Neurosurgery, where nerves are cut to relieve the pain

There are other methods that may be used, too. See the section called “Other medical methods to relieve pain” for details.

You may also use non-medical treatments such as relaxation techniques, biofeedback, guided imagery, and others along with the medicines. See the section called “Non-medical treatments for pain.”


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