Cancer Pain

How does cancer cause pain?

Cancer causes pain when cancer cells press on organs, bones or nerves in the body. Sometimes, cancer treatment itself can also cause pain. For example, radiotherapy can cause skin irritation and chemotherapy can cause burning pain or numbness in the hands and feet.

How can cancer pain be treated?

In general, stronger painkillers such as opioids are needed to treat cancer pain. Commonly used opioids include morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl and hydromorphone. Tumour that has invaded or compressed onto nerves will require anti-convulsants or anti-depressants because these drugs are more effective against nerve (neuropathic) pain.

Are there side effects to painkillers?

The common side effects of opioids include drowsiness, dizziness, constipation, nausea and vomiting. If you are experiencing side effects, we can switch your medication to find one that is most suitable for you.

What if I still have pain after taking painkillers?

This may happen in advanced or metastatic cancer as the cancer has spread to many parts of the body. If this happens, delivering painkillers directly into the fluid around the spinal cord can effectively treat pain. This is called intrathecal drug delivery and involves a minor surgery to place a drug reservoir under the skin to infuse morphine and local anaesthetic through a small tube (or catheter) into the intrathecal space.

For more information, see

Other Pain Conditions


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