7 Tips for Successful Cancer Pain Medication Use

How to Get the Most Out of Your Pain Treatment

Oxycodone narcotic pain reliever. Credit: Education Images / Contributor / Getty Images

More than three-quarters of patients will experience relief from their cancer pain with medication. In some cases, pain can be very complex and difficult to treat. In other cases, patients could get improved benefit from their medications, just from changing the way they think about them. Here are a few tips to help you get the best success from your pain medications.

1. Take Your Cancer Pain Medication As Ordered

This may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but it is important for you to take the dose that your doctor ordered at the proper times.

Self-regulating your doses or adjusting your times makes it difficult for the healthcare team to know how the medication is working for you. Taking too much of a medication in too short of a period of time can also cause dangerous side effects.

2. Think Ahead - Don't Wait to Manage Pain Medications and Pain

If you are taking pain medication on an "as-needed" basis, take it before your pain becomes severe, and take it regularly. If you wait until the pain gets really bad, it will be much harder to get back under control and you may end up needing higher doses just to manage it. This may mean that you are taking medication when you are only a little bit uncomfortable. If it fits into your time parameters, that's okay. If you are starting to have discomfort before you are due to take another dose, discuss this with your doctor.

Also, if you notice that doing certain activities causes you pain or discomfort, take your pain medication about a half hour before.

4. Comparing Apples to Apples - Your Pain is Uniquely Yours

Many of us are prone to comparing ourselves to others who may in the same situation as us. In the case of cancer pain, everybody’s experience is very, very different. It is important to compare your pain to your experience, not to that of someone else.

You may have pain for different reasons, your pain may be relieved by other medications, you may have different activity levels or lifestyle considerations - there are many factors at play in cancer pain management.

Don’t be afraid to communicate about your pain because you are afraid that you are being "wimpy" or "whiney." Pain is an individual experience- it is what you feel it is.

5. Ask Before You Sip - Precautions with Alcohol and Pain Meds

Be aware that many pain medications can interact with alcohol, so it is a great idea to ask your doctor about possible interactions before that cocktail presents itself. In most cases, an occasional drink is not a concern, but each medication or person is different.

6. Talk About It

It is important that you keep the lines of communication open when dealing with pain. Because there is no way for people to know what you are experiencing unless you tell them, being clear about your symptoms and how they are affecting your life is critical for good control.

Talking about your pain doesn’t make you a complainer; it makes you a good advocate for yourself.

7. Hang In There

It may take some time for you and your healthcare team to find a pain control regime that works for you.

There are many different pain medications that can be taken at many different doses. To further complicate things, there are supportive medications that can help your pain meds work better, as well as things to help you control any side effects. There is a lot to work through!

The goal is to hang in there. Being in pain can be very hard on both your body and your emotions, but relief is on the way. Even if your doctor can’t help you completely eliminate your cancer pain, you can work together to find something that makes it bearable to live with.


Eyre, H., Lange, D., Morris, L. (2002) Informed Decisions 2nd ed. American Cancer Society. Atlanta,GA.

Kelvin, J., Tyson, L.(2005) 100 Questions and Answers About Cancer Symptoms and Cancer Treatment Side Effects. Jones and Bartlett: Sudbury, MA

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