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.
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:
- Antidepressants such as imipramine and trazodone can help if you have burning, tingling pain from nerve damage, which can sometimes happen after cancer treatment.
- Antiseizure medications such as gabapentin can also ease pain from nerve damage.
- Steroids, like dexamethasone and prednisone, can reduce pain from swelling.
- Drugs call bisphosphonates, such as alendronate (Fosamax), normally treat the bone-thinning condition osteoporosis, but they can also help make you more comfortable if cancer has spread to your bones.
- If you have mouth sores, you can try treatments to coat them or numb the inside of your mouth. Options include lidocaine, mouth rinses with diphenhydramine or doxepin, and gels or sprays such as Caphosol, Episil, Gelclair, and MuGard. You can also make you own mouth rinse that you can swish and then spit out consisting of 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of baking soda, and 4 cups of water.
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.
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:
- Breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Guided imagery
- Heat pads and ice pads
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.