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Pharmacological Management of 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.


Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
  • You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough.
  • You cough up blood.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You feel more pain even after you take your pain medicine.
  • You feel so depressed that you cannot cope.
  • You feel very anxious or irritable after you take your medicines.
  • You have problems thinking clearly.
  • You cannot control when you urinate or have a bowel movement.

Contact your healthcare provider or oncologist if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • You have nausea or vomiting.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain. Acetaminophen is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Narcotic analgesics are used for moderate to severe pain. They may be used to control cancer pain or after surgery and other procedures.
  • Other medicines include steroids, antidepressants, antianxiety medicine, muscle relaxers, bisphosphonates, or anticonvulsants. They may be used with your pain medicine to help decrease pain. Ask your healthcare provider or pain specialist for more information about these medicines.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him of her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your healthcare provider or oncologist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.


  • Rest as often as you need to. Rest is important for your recovery. Do not return to your regular activities too quickly. Start slowly and do more as you feel stronger. Rest during the day. Plan for 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night. Contact your healthcare provider if you are not able to sleep.
  • Go to rehabilitation 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.
  • Exercise as directed. Activity may help increase your strength and control cancer pain. Ask your healthcare provider or pain specialist about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Keep a pain diary. A pain diary may help track pain cycles so you know when and how your pain starts and ends. Include anything that makes your pain worse or better. Bring the pain diary to follow-up visits with your healthcare provider.
  • Prevent bed sores. You may need an egg crate or air mattress on your bed to help prevent bed sores. If you cannot move by yourself, someone will need to turn you from side to side often.

Further information

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