Cancer Pain Treatments

Medications and Other Treatments to Relieve Cancer Pain

Cancer pain responds remarkably well to today's medications, and the majority of cancer patients get excellent pain relief using oral medication only. Some patients will require intensive pain management from their cancer doctor, while a few will benefit from the expertise of a pain management specialist skillful with opioids and other specific treatments.

Cancer Pain Management with Medications
Most minor cancer pain can be relieved with common pain relievers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen (Tylenol), tramadol, naproxen, and aspirin.

However, if you experience moderate to severe pain, you may need an opioid such as morphine, oxycodone, or fentanyl. Opioids are most frequently taken as pills, but patches are also gaining in popularity. IVs and injections are also good options in the right situation.

Many patients worry about developing an opioid habit. Doctors use strategies that manage pain aggressively, while avoiding opioid addiction. Your doctor might combine an opioid with other pain medications. He or she may also switch you to another opioid medication, partially slowing resistance. Thanks to these and other strategies, few cancer patients ever struggle with opioid addiction.

Read more about medications to manage cancer pain.

Anti-depressants for Cancer Pain?
Numerous clinical studies demonstrate that anti-depressant medications reduce the burning and tingling types of cancer pain.1 When your doctor prescribes an anti-depressant, he or she is usually working to reduce the traumatic pain signals your nerves are transmitting, even though you are not depressed.

Radiation and Chemotherapy Can Reduce Cancer Pain
Radiation and chemotherapy are also excellent treatments for cancer pain. Killing the cancer usually reduces the pain. Within days of starting radiation therapy many patients report a substantial decrease in pain.

While chemotherapy may initially cause some pain and discomfort, many patients experience a decrease in pain as the treatment succeeds at shrinking tumors and killing cancer cells.

Intravenous Vitamin C for Cancer Pain
In severe cancer pain cases, some doctors think that intravenous (IV) vitamin C may help. It’s thought that mega doses of vitamin C taken intravenously may help specifically with bone pain. However, there is currently no evidence to support this claim. Clinical trials are underway to determine the specific benefits of IV vitamin C.

Pain Management Specialists for Cancer Pain
Your cancer specialist can manage the majority of your pain issues. However, patients who experience extreme or long-term pain often benefit from treatments a pain management specialist can provide.

Typically, pain management specialists first complete a residency in anesthesiology. They then elect to train for 1 or 2 additional years in pain management. Their expertise with opioids, other pain medications, pumps, IVs, epidurals, and injections can be very helpful to people with severe cancer pain.

If you are anticipating difficult months of intense cancer treatment, ask your cancer specialist to recommend a pain management specialist and set up a consultation.

Beyond Medications for Cancer Pain Treatment
While medication is usually the most effective cancer pain treatment, there are other treatments that provide physical and emotional relief. Patients often improve with the help of:

  • heat and cold treatment
  • yoga
  • massage and therapeutic touch
  • acupuncture
  • meditation
  • relaxation
  • exercise (Read more about how exercise can help you deal with your pain in our article addressing physical therapy and exercise for cancer pain.)
  • imagery

With the right treatment plan, you and your doctor can reduce your cancer pain considerably. Opioids, other medications, and additional treatments are remarkably effective at overcoming pain.

Updated on: 11/18/15
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Cancer Pain Medications