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Cancer Pain - Treatment Overview

You are the only one who knows how your cancer pain feels. You may need different combinations of treatments. Don't be surprised if your pain control plan needs to be changed often. Don't let that discourage you. Be honest and specific about what does and does not work for you. Staying on top of your pain and in control of your pain will improve your quality of life during every stage of your disease.

Nonprescription drugs

Drugs that you can buy without a doctor's prescription may be enough to relieve your pain at times. Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, relieves pain, while other drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin relieve pain and also decrease swelling. But talk with your doctor before you take these medicines. And don't take more than the label says unless your doctor tells you to.

Prescription drugs

Drugs that need a doctor's prescription may be stronger or work differently than nonprescription drugs. Follow your doctor's orders about taking them. Prescription drugs include:

Medicines for breakthrough pain

This is extra medicine for when strong pain comes on suddenly. These prescription medicines are usually fast-acting opioids given by mouth, such as morphine or oxycodone. Or you may be given fentanyl in a nasal spray or in lozenges that dissolve under your tongue.

Other treatment options

Medical treatments can help relieve pain from tumors and nerve pain.

  • Ways to shrink, remove, or destroy painful tumors include:
    • Surgery.
    • Chemotherapy.
    • Radiation.
    • Hormone therapy.
    • Radiofrequency ablation, which uses heat to destroy the tumor.
  • Ways to treat nerve pain include:
    • Surgery to cut the nerves that relay pain.
    • Nerve blocks to help with very bad pain.
    • Pain medicine delivered to the spine. This can be done by:
      • Spinal anesthesia, which delivers pain medicine directly to the spine.
      • An epidural, which delivers pain medicine to the nerves around the spine.

Non-medical ways to relieve pain are often used along with pain medicine. These include:

For more information about what you can do, see:

actionset.gif Cancer: Controlling Cancer Pain.

Additional information about pain management is provided by the National Cancer Institute at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/pain/Patient.

Palliative care

Your doctor may talk to you about palliative care. This is medical care that provides an extra layer of support for people who have serious and chronic illnesses. It can improve quality of life for you and your family. With palliative care, you have the help of a medical team to manage your symptoms, pain, and stress.

For more information, see the topic Palliative Care.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 22, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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