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Managing Pain During Cancer Treatment: Care Instructions


Cancer and some of the treatments for it can cause pain. But having cancer does not mean that you have to live with pain. Medicines and other treatments can reduce or stop your pain completely. Getting your pain under control is an important part of cancer treatment. It can help you eat and sleep better, have more energy for your usual activities, and enjoy time with your family and friends.

Pain control starts with finding the cause of the pain. As soon as your doctor knows what is causing your pain, the doctor can recommend the best treatment for your type of pain.

Medicines are often used to treat pain. You and your doctor may need to adjust your medicine to help you get the best possible pain control with the fewest side effects. Your doctor may suggest different medicines, combinations of medicines, or higher doses. You do not need to "tough it out" or wait until your pain is bad before you take medicine. Pain medicine may work better if you use it when you first notice pain, before it becomes bad.

You are the only person who can say how much pain you have, or if a certain pain medicine is working for you. It is important to tell your doctor what your pain feels like and what works and does not work. The more specific you can be about your pain, the better your doctor will be able to treat it.

Besides pain medicine, there also are many other ways to control cancer pain, including things you can do at home. Some people find acupuncture, massage, and aromatherapy helpful. Or you may want to use relaxation exercises, biofeedback, or guided imagery to help you cope better with the pain. Emotional support from your family and friends can also help.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take over-the-counter medicine.
  • Keep track of your pain with a daily pain diary. Record how intense the pain is and what kind of pain you have. Write down when you last took pain medicine, what medicine you took, how much medicine you took, and how well the medicine worked. Bring the pain diary to your appointments with your doctor. Having a written record of your pain can help you and your doctor find the best ways to treat your pain.
  • Pace yourself. Break up large jobs into smaller tasks. Save harder tasks for days when you have less pain, or go back and forth between hard tasks and easier ones. Take rest breaks.
  • Try relaxation methods such as deep breathing or meditation. These methods can relieve stress and help you cope better with pain.
  • Keep moving. Gentle, daily exercise can help reduce pain over the long run. Try low- or no-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, and riding a stationary bike. Do stretches and range-of-motion exercises to stay strong and flexible. Talk with your doctor or physiotherapist about what exercises are best for you.
  • Try putting heat or cold packs on sore areas of your body. This may help relieve muscle or joint soreness.
  • Get enough sleep. Pain can make you tired and drain your energy. Talk with your doctor if you have trouble sleeping because of pain.
  • Think positively. Your thoughts can affect your pain level. Do things that you enjoy to distract yourself when you have pain instead of focusing on the pain. See a movie, read a book, listen to music, or spend time with a friend.
  • If your pain is not relieved, talk to your doctor about seeing a pain specialist. This is a doctor who focuses on treating pain.
  • If your pain medicine causes side effects, such as nausea or constipation, talk to your doctor about medicines to help relieve these symptoms.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have new or worse pain.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.