How to Tame Cancer Pain

Many people who have cancer also have pain. It can come from the disease itself, like when a tumor presses on a nerve. Treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation can also cause it. But whatever the reason, there’s almost always a way to treat it.

If you hurt, it's important to talk with your doctor or nurse as soon as possible. You’re more likely to get a good handle on the problem if you tackle it early. There are many different ways to treat pain. If one approach doesn't work, you and your doctor can try others until you find relief.

Medications

Pain-relieving drugs are the most common treatment option. For mild aches, over-the-counter pain meds such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can work well. But check with your health care team before you take any to make sure they won’t affect the way your cancer medicines work.

For more severe pain, your doctor may prescribe a prescription painkiller, usually an opioid or narcotic drug like codeine, fentanyl, morphine, and oxycodone. These drugs are powerful, and some people might be afraid that they’ll become addicted to them. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and make sure you understand the directions for taking them.

Here are some other drugs that can ease cancer-related pain:

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Other Medical Treatments

Besides drugs, your doctor may recommend these other ways to ease your pain. Options include:

  • Surgery to take out all or part of a tumor if it’s pressing on a nerve or an organ.
  • Radiation to shrink a tumor enough to relieve pain.
  • Surgery to cut a nerve that the tumor is pressing on.
  • Injections to numb the nerve that’s causing the pain.

Alternative Treatments

There are plenty of non-medical ways to ease your aches, too. They're called complementary therapies, and they can work along with other pain treatments. Or you can use them on their own to get relief. You may need to try a few different methods to find one that works for you.

Your options are:

  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Biofeedback
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Guided imagery
  • Massage
  • Heat pads and ice pads
  • Hypnosis
  • Counseling

Some people also get relief from transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a device that sends a mild electrical current through your skin to nerves beneath.

Talk to Your Care Team

You don’t have to live with pain either from cancer or from one of your treatments. Talk to your doctor or nurse about what you can do to feel better.

Relief for the pain will make you more comfortable and help you enjoy your life more. And being pain-free can actually make your other cancer treatments more effective.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 14, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

MD Anderson Cancer Center: "Cancer Pain Management and Treatment."

American Cancer Society: "Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain."

National Cancer Institute: "Pain Control."

Cancer Care: Opening the Door to Effective Pain Management: Getting the Facts and Getting Help."

American Society of Clinical Oncology: "Peripheral Neuropathy." "Pain: Additional Ways to Manage Pain."

Simmons, C.P.L. Clinical Medicine Insights: Oncology, 2012.

Macmillan Cancer Support: "Controlling the symptoms of secondary cancer in the liver."

Cancer Research UK: "Other ways of treating cancer pain."

Cleveland Clinic: "Need a Nerve Block? 4 Things You Should Know."

Kwekkeboom, K.L. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. August 2008.

City of Hope Pain and Palliative Care Resource Center: "The Management of Cancer Pain."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Treating Cancer Pain."

Pharmacy Times. “Mouth Ulcers Due to Cancer Treatment.”

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