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Cancer: Controlling Cancer Pain

Table of Contents


Having cancer does not mean that you have to live with pain. Cancer and some of the treatments for it can cause pain. But most people who have cancer are able to manage their pain well.1

How can I control the pain caused by cancer?

Keep track of your pain and your treatments

Your doctor needs all the information you can give about what your pain feels like. Your doctor needs to know how your treatment is working or not working. It may be easier to give your doctor information if you write it down. Use a daily diary to rate your pain. Write down what drugs you are taking and how well they are working. Write down any other methods you are using to control your pain.

Pay attention to the details of your pain so you can tell your doctor. Is it burning? Throbbing? Steady? How long does it last? Take your written information and your questions with you when you see your doctor.

Use a calendar or a pain control diary to keep track of your treatment. Write down how strong your pain is and when it comes and goes. Most doctors use a "0 to 10" scale to measure pain. On this scale, "0" means no pain and "10" means the worst possible pain.

It is easy to get confused about medicines when you are in pain and are looking for something to help you feel better. You may have prescriptions from more than one doctor. Keeping a written medicine record can help you and your doctors work together.

Stay on top of your pain

Your pain will be harder to control if you let it get worse before you take your medicine. Make the most of your pain medicines by following these rules:

Manage the side effects

Pain medicines may cause side effects. For example, opioid pain relievers may cause drowsiness, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. Some anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin, may cause stomach upset or bleeding. Before you start taking a drug, ask your doctor about the possible side effects.

There are things you can do to manage some side effects.

Complementary medicine

Complementary medicine is the term for a wide variety of health care practices that may be used along with standard medical treatment. These therapies are helpful in managing pain for some people.

Most of these therapies have not been subjected to the same degree of rigorous scientific testing for safety and effectiveness that standard medical treatments must go through before they are approved in the United States. Be sure to talk with your doctor about which therapies might be best for you.

Behavioral therapies

Physical therapies

Other therapies

For more information on these therapies, see the topic Complementary Medicine.



  1. National Cancer Institute (2013). Pain PDQ – Patient Version. Available online:
  2. National Comprehensive Cancer Network (2013). Adult cancer pain. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, version 1.2013. Available online:

Credits for Cancer: Controlling Cancer Pain

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Jimmy Ruiz MD - Hematology, Oncology

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