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Cancer treatment - dealing with pain

Palliative - cancer pain

Cancer can sometimes cause pain. This pain can come from the cancer itself, or from the treatments for cancer.

Treating your pain should be part of your overall treatment for cancer. You have a right to receive treatment for cancer pain. There are many medicines and other treatments that can help. If you have any pain, be sure to talk with your health care provider about your options.

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What Causes Pain

The pain from cancer can have a few different causes:

Everyone's pain is different. Your pain can range from mild to severe and may last for only a short time or continue for a long time.

Why Treat Pain

Many people with cancer do not get enough treatment for their pain. This may be because they do not want to take pain medicine, or they do not think it will help. But treating your pain is part of treating your cancer. You should get treatment for pain just as you would for any other side effect.

Managing pain can also help you feel better overall. Treatment can help you:

Addiction Concerns

Some people are afraid to take pain medicines because they think they will become addicted. Over time, your body may develop a tolerance for pain medicine. This means that you may need more of it to treat your pain. This is normal and can happen with other medicines as well. It does not mean you are addicted. As long as you are taking the medicine as prescribed by your doctor, you have little chance of becoming addicted.

How to Talk About Pain

To make sure you get the right treatment for your pain, it is important to be as honest as possible with your provider. You will want to tell your provider:

Your provider may ask you to rate your pain using a scale or a chart. It may be helpful to keep a pain diary to help track your pain. You can also keep track of when you take medicine for your pain and how much it helps. This will help your provider know how well the medicine is working.

Types of Medicines for Pain

There are three main types of medicines for cancer pain. Your provider will work with you to find a medicine that works best for you with the least amount of side effects. In general, you will start with the least amount of medicine with the fewest side effects that relieves your pain. If one medicine does not work, your provider may suggest another. It may take a little time to find the right medicine and the right dose that is right for you.

How to Take Pain Medicine

It is important to take your pain medicine exactly as your provider tells you to. Here are some tips to get the most out of your pain medicine:

Other Treatments for Cancer Pain

In some cases, your provider may suggest another type of treatment for your cancer pain. Some options include:


Nesbit S, Browner I, Grossman SA. Cancer-related pain. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 37.

National Cancer Institute website. Cancer pain (PDQ) - Health professional version. Updated September 3, 2020. Accessed October 24, 2020.

Scarborough BM, Smith CB. Optimal pain management for patients with cancer in the modern era. CA Cancer J Clin. 2018;68(3):182-196. PMID: 29603142


Review Date: 7/28/2020  

Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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