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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
In some cases, your provider may suggest another type of treatment for your cancer pain. Some options include:
American Cancer Society. Pain Control: A Guide for Those With Cancer and Their Loved Ones. June 2014. Available at: www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/002906-pdf.pdf. Accessed June 17, 2014.
Auret K, Schug SA. Pain management for the cancer patient - current practice and future developments. Best Pract Res Clin Anaesthesiol. 2013 Dec;27(4):545-61.
National Cancer Institute. Pain. January 2014. Available at: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/pain/HealthProfessional. Accessed June 17, 2014.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. Adult Cancer Pain, V.1.2014. Available at: www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gl%20s/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed June 17, 2014.
Miaskowski C, Cleary J, Burney R, et al. Guideline for the management of cancer pain in adults and children. Glenview (IL): American Pain Society (APS). 2005; Clinical Practice Guideline: no. 3.
World Health Organization (WHO). WHO's pain relief ladder. World Health Organization: Programmes and projects: Cancer. 2010. Available at: www.who.int/cancer/palliative/painladder/en. Accessed on: 6/19/14.
Last reviewed on: 10/7/2014
Reviewed by: Christine Zhang, MD, Medical Oncologist, Fresno, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.