James Metz, MD
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: November 1, 2001
Cancer pain is usually caused by a tumor pressing against bones, nerves, or bodily organs. Cancer treatments can also cause pain and discomfort. Patients may have pain caused by things that have nothing to do with cancer such as muscle strains and arthritis.
The first step in the management of cancer pain is choosing the correct pain medication. There may be a period of trial and error while your physician attempts to find the right medication and dosage for you. There are a large variety of medications, which range in strength from over the counter medications such as aspirin to strong prescription medications such as morphine. Medications may be short-acting and taken on an "as needed" basis, or long-acting to suppress any pain before it occurs. Pain medications may be given as pills, liquids, suppositories, skin patches, or injections.
There are some non-drug treatments of pain that are effective for some patients. Guided imagery can be a very effective and soothing technique. Breathing and relaxation exercises can also help many patients. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units may be prescribed in specific circumstances. Hot or cold packs may also provide symptomatic relief of discomfort.
There are some important points to remember when dealing with cancer pain that include: