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Each patient needs a personal plan to control cancer pain, and that plan needs to be able to work for you and your family.
When people say they are having pain, it usually means they’re hurting somewhere. But it can also mean that they just can’t get comfortable. They could be feeling bad in general, not in any one place. The pain can feel worse if a person is sad, anxious, or depressed. Some people have a hard time talking about their pain. It’s important that you tell your cancer team about any pain you have and to describe it the best way you can.
Even severe pain can be controlled well by combinations of medicines that can be taken by mouth. Pain medicines work best if they are taken on a regular schedule before the pain becomes severe. You’ll want to treat pain when it first starts and regularly after that. If the cause of the pain can be treated with other methods, the need for medicine will slowly decrease or disappear as the cause is treated.
If you have pain from cancer that has spread or other long-term cancer pain, it can exhaust you. This type of pain can keep you from doing things that you want and need to do. Although cancer pain cannot always be fully relieved, there are ways to make it less severe and allow you to do many of your normal activities.
Even with around-the-clock pain medicines, pain often “breaks through” between doses. Breakthrough pain usually calls for a second pain medicine that you can safely take in addition to your regular pain medicine. Don’t be surprised if it takes more than 2 medicines to control your pain. Always tell your cancer care team how well your pain is being controlled so that medicines and doses can be adjusted as needed.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society’s Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain. 2018. Available by calling 800-227-2345.
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National Cancer Institute (NCI). Cancer Pain (PDQ®) – Patient Version. 2018. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/pain/pain-pdq
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Adult Cancer Pain. Version 1.2018. Accessed at www.nccn.org on December 17, 2018.
Noonan, K. Pain, fatigue, and cognitive impairment. In Holmes Gobel B, Triest-Robinson S, Vogel WH, eds. Advanced Oncology Nursing Certification: Review and Resource Manual. 2nd ed. Pittsburgh, PA. Oncology Nursing Society; 2016:397-449.
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Last Revised: January 3, 2019
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