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Is chemotherapy painful?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on Oct 23, 2023.

Official answer


Chemotherapy itself isn’t usually painful, but pain may become a side effect of treatment a few days after it ends. If you do experience pain during IV chemotherapy, there may be a leak in your IV line which means the chemotherapy treatment is getting into surrounding tissues, rather than just staying in the vein. Contact your nurse straight away if you experience pain during chemotherapy treatment because this isn’t normal.

Slight discomfort or a prickling sensation may also be felt when the needle is inserted into your vein if your chemotherapy is given by an IV line. This needle contains a thin plastic tube that allows the drugs to flow directly into your bloodstream. Once the catheter is in place, the needle is removed, and any discomfort should go away.

Oral chemotherapy is painless.

If you’re anxious about pain during chemotherapy, talk to your doctor or a nurse about what to expect, before you have treatment.

Types of pain following chemotherapy

Pain as a result of chemotherapy is a common side effect. Types of pain that may occur following chemotherapy treatment include

  • Neuropathic pain – this tends to occur in the hands and feet and is the result of damage to the nerves caused by chemotherapy drugs or, sometimes, cancer itself. Symptoms include burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting sensations
  • Headaches
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Stomach aches.

Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pain. Most types of pain can be managed with medications, but it may involve taking the pain medications regularly, so you can stay ahead of any potential pain. You should not wait until your pain is overwhelming to take your pain-relief medication. Other treatments that can help with pain include:

  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Biofeedback
  • Breathing exercises
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage therapy
  • Meditation
  • Physical therapy
  • Yoga.

Related Questions

  • Chemotherapy and You, created by National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. September 10, 2014
  • Demarco C. 10 things to know about chemotherapy. MD Anderson.December 09, 2019.

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