Pain

Cancer and cancer treatment can sometimes cause pain, but it’s not something you have to suffer through. There are various options to help relieve pain.

Pain is a common cancer symptom, but there are many ways to manage it.

Track Your Pain

If you are experiencing pain, tell your health care team and loved ones about it. You are the only person who knows exactly how much pain you are feeling.

Keep a Pain Diary

  • Writing about pain you feel—where it is, when it started, and how bad it is—can help your cancer care team come up with the best pain management plan for you:
    • Describe the pain in words—dull, sharp, throbbing, burning, shooting.
    • Include details on what eases the pain. If medicines help, note which ones you’re taking and how often, and how well they work.
  • Rate your pain, using a 0 to 10 rating scale (0 = no pain; 10 = worst pain):
    • At its worst
    • At its best
    • How the pain is most of the time

Talk to Your Health Care Team

  • Talk to your health care team about the pain you experience, and find out your options for pain relief.
  • Tell your health care team about any new pain or worsening pain. Pain might be a sign that the cancer has spread or an infection has started, or that there are problems with your cancer treatment.
  • If your pain medicine does not provide enough relief, talk to your doctor. He or she may prescribe a different drug, add a new treatment to your regimen, prescribe a higher dose of the medicine you currently take, or tell you to take it more often.

Medical Treatments for Pain

Many different medical treatments can help relieve pain, including both pain medicines and non-drug methods.

Learn About Opioid (Narcotic) Medications

  • Opioid medicines are used to treat moderate to severe pain. Short-acting opioids relieve breakthrough pain quickly, while long-acting or extended release opioids work continuously over a longer period.
  • You may not realize all the different ways you can take pain medicine, including by:
    • Mouth (oral)
    • Skin (patch)
    • Rectum (rectal suppositories)
    • Injection (shot)
    • Pump—a type of injection that you control
  • Common side effects from opioids are fatigue, constipation, and nausea and vomiting. If you experience these or other side effects, tell your health care team and ask for help managing them.

Learn About Non-Opioid Medications

  • Non-opioids can help control mild to moderate pain and can sometimes be bought over the counter without a prescription. These medicines, which include acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are more effective at controlling pain than some people realize. In addition, different types of medicines, including antidepressants, antihistamines, and steroids, can be used along with (or instead of) opioids and non-opioids to help relieve cancer pain.
  • To help make sure your pain control plan works well, take your pain medicine as prescribed and tell your doctor whether it is providing enough relief.

Learn About Other Medical Treatments for Pain

  • Other cancer pain treatments include:
    • Using a local anesthetic (a numbing drug) to block the nerve.
    • Injecting medicine into the spinal fluid to control pain.
    • Shrinking the size of a tumor that is pressing on nerves and organs and causing pain.
    • Surgery to cut nerve pathways carrying pain signals to the brain.
  • Medical treatments can sometimes be used to shrink a tumor or stop its growth to relieve pain. Treatments include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, radioactive injections, and radiofrequency ablation.

Keep Track of Your Medications

Be sure to include vitamins, herbs, or other supplements; drugs you take as needed; and medicines you get at the drug store. Use this medication chart from ACS to keep track of everything you are taking.

Non-Medical Treatments for Pain

Non-medical treatments can help treat cancer pain and can be used along with pain medicines, or alone for pain or discomfort.

Learn About Non-Medical Treatments for Pain

  • Talk to your cancer care team, who may refer you to social workers, physical therapists, psychologists, nurses, or others to help you learn these techniques. Ask your family or friends for help, too.
  • These treatments include:
    • Acupuncture
    • Biofeedback
    • Counseling
    • Hypnosis
  • Learn more about non-medical treatments of pain.

Find a Complementary Health Practitioner

  • Using complementary health care together with your traditional medical care may help you feel better, reduce your symptoms or side effects, and allow you to take a more active role in your treatment or recovery.
  • Contact your doctor or a local hospital to ask about practitioners in your area. The National Library of Medicine also lists various types of health professionals, services, and facilities in its MedlinePlus Directories page.
  • Learn more about complementary therapies.

Get Support

For more detailed information on support options, visit Get Support.

Talk to Your Health Care Team

Your health care team needs to know how you’re doing. Be sure to tell them about any changes you notice.

Talk to Family and Friends

Your loved ones want to support you. They can help with activities like housework, running errands, and getting to appointments. Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need.

Find Peer Support

Talk About Your Concerns

Peer groups offer a welcoming environment to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through the same things. Use the American Cancer Society’s Resource Search to find a peer group in your area or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for personalized assistance.

Visit the Cancer Survivors Network Online

The Cancer Survivors Network is an online community with more than 40 discussion boards where cancer survivors share their cancer-related experiences, support one another, and exchange practical tips.

NCI Cancer Information Service

Call

Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.

Chat

The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.

ACS National Cancer Information Center

Get Tips

Get information and tips from a cancer information specialist at the American Cancer Society by calling 1-800-227-2345. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Chat

The American Cancer Society offers live, online assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Select the Live Chat option from any page on cancer.org.

Learn More About Pain

The National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society have additional resources to help you, including: