About one-third of people with cancer have pain. There are different types of cancer pain affected by:

  • The progression of the disease
  • The location in the body
  • The overall physical condition


Based on the cause of pain, researchers have defined different cancer pain syndromes, including:

  • Pain from the tumor—Tumors can press on bone, nerves, or an organ, resulting in pain.
  • Pain related to cancer therapy—This may include pain from:
  • Pain unrelated to the cancer or treatment—This refers to pain (in people with cancer) that has nothing to do with the illness or its treatment. It may include:


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Risk Factors

Having cancer is the main risk factor for cancer pain.


Any type of pain experienced by a cancer patient can be considered cancer pain. The pain may be near or far from the location of the tumor. The intensity can vary. It may be chronic or intermittent pain. The pain can be described as pressure, sharp, dull, throbbing, burning, stabbing, and/or achy.


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Special tests may also be done to determine possible causes of the pain. To look for structural problems such as bone fractures and lesions your doctor may use:

  • CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside of the body
  • MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body

To evaluate for a nerve disorders (eg, neuropathy, plexopathy, or radiculopathy) your doctor may use:

  • Electromyography (EMG)—measures electrical activity of a muscle
  • Nerve conduction velocity (NCV)—measure the speed of a nerve impulse


Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Your plan will depend on the type of pain you are experiencing. It will also depend on how your cancer has been treated. Medications to treat cancer pain include the following:


To treat mild to moderate cancer pain:


Often used to treat moderate to severe cancer pain:

Other Medications

Antidepressants, anti-epileptics, and steroids may be effective in relieving certain types of cancer pain. These types of medication may be of benefit if the pain is thought to be related to the central nervous system. This type of pain may be called either neuopathis or central.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy can be used to relieve bone pain. It can also help relieve pain caused by tumors compressing other structures.

If you are diagnosed with cancer pain syndrome, follow your doctor's instructions.


Usually, cancer pain is difficult to avoid. To manage your pain, the best thing you can do is talk with your doctor about any pain you have. Your doctor can help you make a plan to manage your pain.