Cancer Pain, A Guide for You and Your Family
Having cancer does not always mean having pain. For those with pain, there
are many different kinds of medicines, ways to receive the medicine, and
nonmedicine methods that can relieve the pain you may have. You should not
accept pain as a normal part of having cancer. When you are free of pain, you
can sleep and eat better, enjoy the company of family and friends, and continue
with your work and hobbies.
Important Facts About Cancer Pain Treatment
Only you know how much pain you
have. Telling your doctor and nurse when you have pain is important. Not only is
pain easier to treat when you first have it, but pain can be an early warning
sign of the side effects of the cancer or the cancer treatment. Together -
you, your nurse, and doctor - can talk about how to treat your pain. You have
a right to pain relief, and you should insist on it.
Here are some facts about cancer pain that may help answer some of your
1. Cancer pain can almost always be relieved.
There are many different medicines
and methods available to control cancer pain. You should expect your doctor to
seek all the information and resources necessary to make you as comfortable as
possible. However, no one doctor can know everything about all medical problems.
If you are in pain and your doctor suggests no other options, ask to see a pain
specialist or have your doctor consult with a pain specialist. Pain specialists
may be oncologists, anesthesiologists, neurologists, or neurosurgeons, other
doctors, nurses, or pharmacists. A pain control team may also include
psychologists and social workers.
If you have trouble locating a pain program or specialist, contact a cancer
center, a hospice, or the oncology department at your local hospital or medical
center. The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) Cancer Information Service (CIS)
and other organizations can give you a list of pain management facilities. The
American Cancer Society (ACS) and other organizations may also be able to
provide names of pain specialists, pain clinics, or programs in your area.
2. Controlling your cancer pain is part of the overall treatment for cancer.
Your doctor wants and needs to hear about what works and what doesn't work for
your pain. Knowing about the pain will help your doctor better understand how
the cancer and the treatment are affecting your body. Discussions about pain
will not distract your doctor from treating the cancer.
3. Preventing pain from starting or getting worse is the best way to control it.
Pain is best relieved when treated early. You may hear some people refer to this
as "staying on top" of the pain. Do not try to hold off as long as
possible between doses. Pain may get worse if you wait, and it may take longer,
or require larger doses, for your medicine to give you relief.
4. Telling the doctor or nurse about pain is not a sign of weakness.
You have a
right to ask for pain relief. Not everyone feels pain in the same way. There is
no need to be "stoic" or "brave" if you have more pain than
others with the same kind of cancer. In fact, as soon as you have any pain you
should speak up. Remember, it is easier to control pain when it just starts
rather than waiting until after it becomes severe.
5. People who take cancer pain medicines, as prescribed by the doctor, rarely
become addicted to them.
Addiction is a common fear of people taking pain
medicine. Such fear may prevent people from taking the medicine. Or it may cause
family members to encourage you to "hold off" as long as possible
between doses. Addiction is defined by many medical societies as uncontrollable
drug craving, seeking, and use. When opioids (also known as narcotics) - the
strongest pain relievers available - are taken for pain, they rarely cause
addiction as defined here. When you are ready to stop taking opioids, the doctor
gradually lowers the amount of medicine you are taking. By the time you stop
using it completely, the body has had time to adjust. Talk to your doctor,
nurse, or pharmacist about how to use pain medicines safely and about any
concerns you have about addiction.
6. Most people do not get "high" or lose control when they take cancer
pain medicines as prescribed by the doctor.
Some pain medicines can cause you to
feel sleepy when you first take them. This feeling usually goes away within a
few days. Sometimes you become drowsy because, with the relief of the pain, you
are now able to catch up on the much needed sleep you missed when you were in
pain. On occasion, people get dizzy or feel confused when they take pain
medicines. Tell your doctor or nurse if this happens to you. Changing your dose
or type of medicine can usually solve the problem.