Pain Management

Share Tweet Email

Not all cancer patients experience pain during treatment. However, some need to have pain managed by their health care team. Every experience is different. If you have pain, talk to your health care team right away. You don't have to deal with it alone.

Decisions about pain management should be made with your health care provider. If pain continues, you or someone acting on your behalf should contact your provider and ask for more help. There are many different pain medicines. It may be that a prescribed change in the dosage or another type of medication would work better for you.

Communicate With Your Health Care Team

If you have pain problems, contact your physician or other health care team members right away. It’s important to get the best treatment possible as soon as you can. If pain becomes severe, it can become more difficult to manage.

Tell your health care provider if you have:

  • New pain.
  • Long-term or constant pain.
  • Pain that continues after treatment.
  • Pain that feels different than what you have had before.
  • Pain and swelling in an arm or leg.
  • Pain, numbness, tingling or a burning sensation in your hands or feet.

Questions to Ask Your Provider About Pain Medications

  • What pain medications are available for my type and stage of cancer?
  • Are there possible side effects?
  • Can there be interactions with other medications?
  • Do you recommend any other treatments?
  • Are there any concerns about trying different treatments?

Download PDF

Pain can affect your ability to sleep, eat, work and spend time with loved ones and friends. Tell your provider how the pain is affecting your life. Describe how it interferes with your activities.

Rate Your Pain

Keep a record of your pain. Take this information to your appointments with members of your health care team. Cancer pain is often treated with one or more medications. If you have concerns about taking certain treatments, discuss these with your provider and pharmacist.

Specific Info to Give Your Health Care Team About Your Pain

  • Where the pain is located.
  • How much it hurts (mild, moderate or severe).
  • When you experience the pain.
  • What seems to lessen or increase the pain.
  • How often you have pain.
  • How long the pain lasts.
  • How much any current pain medication helps.
  • Whether the pain affects your ability to sleep, eat or do daily activities.

Download PDF

Give your health care team enough information to correctly assess your pain situation. Many providers ask patients to rate their level of pain using a pain scale. A rating of zero means no pain. A rating of 10 stands for the highest level of pain. This method gives the provider a better idea of the level of discomfort.

Get the Best Pain Care

Be certain that members of your health care team have the experience and skills to treat your specific condition. You deserve to receive good pain care. Relief from pain can positively affect your overall health, strength and ability to heal properly.

When you talk with your provider about pain symptoms, he or she should ask questions. Tests should be done to identify the cause of the problem. Your health care team should listen to you. Some nurses and physicians, such as psychiatrists and anesthesiologists, specialize in managing pain. If you think your provider is not having success treating your pain, ask for a referral to a pain specialist.

The Center to Advance Palliative Care is a website that provides important information about pain care and support. Also see Palliative Care to Improve Quality of Life.

Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Pain Management

  • Are your reports of pain taken seriously by your health care team?
  • Has your health care provider told you what may be causing your pain?
  • Have you been told about all of the pain treatment options?
  • Do you understand the benefits and risks of each treatment option?
  • Are you involved in decisions about managing your pain?
  • Have you been referred to a pain specialist for pain that is ongoing?

Download PDF

Pain Relief Treatment Options

Stress can make pain worse. It can also lessen the effect of medications. Sometimes a health care provider may recommend counseling to help a patient cope. This may lessen the pain. It may also help improve the effectiveness of the pain medication.

Other types of treatment may be used along with pain medications to provide relief. These methods are called complementary, alternative or holistic medicine. They include massage, acupuncture, biofeedback and hypnosis.

Occasionally, health care professionals are not aware of some types of complementary therapies. Others might think that these methods do not work. To learn more about these types of therapies, contact the National Cancer Institute.

Talk with your health care provider if you are interested in adding another method of treatment. Your health care team also needs to know about supplements and herbs that you take or want to try. Some types of therapies or alternative treatments could affect the cancer treatment that has been prescribed by your provider.

Was this article helpful?