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Nonpharmacological Management Of Cancer Pain


What do I need to know about cancer pain?

Cancer pain may be short-term or long-term. It may come and go. You may have pain if the tumor damages or blocks tissues, nerves, and blood vessels as it becomes larger. Some cancer cells may produce chemicals that cause pain. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery may cause pain. Pain management is an important part of cancer care.

How is cancer pain diagnosed?

  • A pain diary can help your healthcare provider find the cause of your pain. Include anything that makes your pain better and worse. Also include when your pain begins and ends. Bring the pain diary to follow-up visits with your healthcare provider.
  • Pain scales help measure the amount of pain you feel. Pain scales may include numbers or faces. Your healthcare provider may ask you to rate the pain on a scale of 0 to 10.
    Pain Scale
  • An x-ray, CT, or MRI may be used to find the cause of your cancer pain. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Stimulation tests may help find nerves or muscles affected by pain. These tests may include electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies, and evoked potential (EP) studies.

What is nonpharmacologic treatment for cancer pain?

These therapies are used in addition to medicine to decrease or control cancer pain. Talk to your healthcare provider about the right therapy for you:

  • Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat to the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.
  • Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed.
  • Rehabilitation may include physical and occupational therapy. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain. An occupational therapist teaches you skills to help with your daily activities.
  • Electrical stimulation uses a device that sends mild and safe electrical signals. These signals decrease your pain when used over a painful body part.
  • Surgery and other procedures, such as ultrasound, radio waves, thermal (heat), or laser therapy may help relieve your pain. Surgery may include cutting nerves or repairing joints that are the cause of your chronic pain.

What else can I do to help manage my pain?

  • Aromatherapy is a way of using scents to relax, relieve stress, and decrease pain. Aromatherapy uses oils, extracts, or fragrances from flowers, herbs, and trees. They may be inhaled or used during massages, facials, body wraps, and baths.
  • Biofeedback teaches your body to respond differently to the stress of being in pain. Healthcare providers may use a biofeedback machine to help you know when your body is relaxed.
  • Meditation: This therapy teaches you how to focus inside yourself. The goal of meditation is to help you feel more calm and peaceful.
  • Hypnosis is used to put you in a trancelike state and then suggest things that may help you manage pain.
  • Dietary supplements to ease cancer pain include vitamins, minerals, or herbs. Do not take any vitamins or supplements unless your healthcare provider says it is okay.
  • Acupuncture therapy uses very thin needles to balance energy channels in the body.

Call 911 for the following:

  • You have severe chest pain and sudden trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You feel so depressed that you cannot cope.
  • You have problems thinking clearly.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your pain does not get better, or you have new pain.
  • You still feel anxious or irritable after your therapy.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.