: If your doctor has said you should take medicines
to relieve your pain, the information that follows will help you
understand how to take them safely and effectively. Before taking
any medicine, talk with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. Tell
them about any other medications you take. Ask if it is safe to
drink alcoholic beverages if you are taking pain medicine. Try to
identify the cause of your pain. Remember, your pain may not always
be caused by your cancer.
What Medicines Are Used To Relieve Pain?
Medicines that relieve pain are called
. Analgesics act on the nervous system to relieve
pain without causing loss of consciousness. Analgesics provide only
temporary pain relief because they do not affect the cause of the
pain. There are two types of analgesics:
or over-the counter (OTC) pain relievers
for mild and moderate pain.
Preventing pain from starting or getting worse is the best way
to control it. Some people call this "staying on top of the pain."
It may mean you can use lower doses of a pain reliever than if you
wait until the pain gets bad. Don't be afraid to admit that you
Different pain medicines take different lengths of time to
work. This is called "
onset of action
." For some medicine, it is only a few
minutes. For others, it is several hours. If you wait too long to
take pain medicine, your pain may get worse before the medicine
helps. Some pain medicine must even be taken for several days or
weeks before you get the best relief.
If you are in some pain all the time, your pain medicine should
be taken regularly. It's important to follow the directions on the
label. They may say, "Take one or two tablets three or four times a
day for pain." Or the directions may tell you to take the medicine
every 4 to 6 hours. You may be able to control your pain with a
mild pain reliever if you take it as directed instead of once in a
while. Check with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist if the labeled
dose does not help your pain.
Sometimes people with pain think that they should wait as long
as they can before taking medicine. This is not the way to control
your pain. The pain may get worse if you wait, and it may then take
longer for your medicine to give you relief. Waiting also may mean
that larger doses or a stronger medicine will be needed to help
When I Take Medicine, the Pain Goes Away,
but It Comes Back Quickly. Why?
The length of time that a pain relief medicine works is called
duration of action
." It varies among the different kinds of
pain medicines. It is also different for different people.
Pain relief also depends on how much you take-the
-and how often you take it-the
. If the pain relief that you get is wearing off
before you are supposed to take the next dose, be sure to tell your
doctor or nurse. Ask if you may take the medicine more often or in
larger doses to keep the pain under control.
If the analgesic you are taking does not seem to lessen or stop
the pain, ask if you can try a different one.
How Should I Take My Pain Medicine?
Most pain medicines are taken by mouth, usually as a tablet or
capsule. Sometimes they are called caplets or gelcaps. Take your
medicine with a large glass of water or other liquid, unless your
doctor tells you otherwise. Do not take your medicine with
alcoholic beverages. If you have trouble swallowing tablets, ask
your doctor or nurse about taking liquid pain medicine.
Pain medicine also can be injected under the skin or into a
muscle or vein. Some pain medicine is available in suppository
form. The easiest way to take pain medicine is by mouth, but shots
or suppositories can be used if you have nausea or problems with
swallowing. A skin patch that gradually releases pain medicine into
the body is also available.
What Should I Do if I Have Side Effects From Pain
Stop taking the medicine if you notice a rash, wheezing, or
shortness of breath. Let your doctor know right away.
You need to tell your doctor or nurse if you are having such
side effects as indigestion, nausea, dizziness, headache,
constipation, or drowsiness. If you want to stop taking a medicine
because of these side effects, discuss it with your doctor, nurse,
or pharmacist first.
Are the Same Pain Medicines Used for
Children With Cancer As for Adults?
Yes, but usually smaller doses are used. The dose must be
adjusted carefully depending on the age and size of the child.
If you are taking care of a child with cancer, you should talk
with the doctor (usually a
, a doctor who specializes in treating
children with cancer), nurse, or other health professional caring
for the child about the best method of pain relief.
Can I Take Nonprescription Medications for Colds
or Other Problems While I'm Taking Pain Medications?
When you are taking medicine for pain, ask your doctor, nurse,
or pharmacist about taking any other medications.
Many cold pills and other over the counter (nonprescription)
medicine can be taken along with analgesics and there are no
harmful effects. However, some combination cold medicines contain
pain relievers and it may be necessary to lower the dose of your
Many combination medicines for colds, menstrual pain,
headaches, and joint or muscle aches contain aspirin. Cancer
patients are usually told to avoid aspirin, especially if they
recently have been on chemotherapy.
Over-the-counter medicines for allergies may cause you to feel
drowsy. Some pain medicine can also cause sleepiness. Taking them
together can make it dangerous to drive or to operate
Before you take any nonprescription medicine, it's a good idea
to read the label and seek the advice of a health professional if
there's anything you don't understand.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a