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.

Radiation and Chemotherapy 


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.

Vitamin C
In some cases, high-dose vitamin C, taken orally or given through an IV, may help with bone pain. According to the National Cancer Institute, some studies of IV high-dose vitamin C have shown improved quality of life and fewer side effects. More research is needed to determine the specific benefits of high-dose vitamin C for cancer-related pain.  According to Norm Shealy, MD, PhD, founder and CEO of the International Institute of Holistic Medicine, he notes that he has treated scores of cancer patients successfully with IV Vitamin C in doses of 75 to 100 grams with no negative effects.


Numerous clinical studies demonstrate that antidepressant medications may reduce the burning and tingling associated with certain types of cancer pain. If your doctor prescribes an ant-depressant, he or she is usually aiming to reduce the traumatic pain signals your nerves are transmitting, whether or not you may also be experiencing depression. According to Dr. Shealy, there are many approaches individuals may consider if they are depressed, including cranial electrical stimulation, typtophan, lithium orotate and B complex, counseling, and spiritual healing practices. Of course, always check with your treatment team before trying any a new therapy to ensure that it is right for you and will not interfere with any medications you may be taking. 

Pain Management Specialists 
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.


This article was updated with the assistance of Dr. Shealy in October 2018.

Updated on: 10/03/18
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Cancer Pain Medications