For people with cancer, pain can be an everyday reality, a problem that comes up now and then, or something scary that may happen. Whether pain comes from the cancer itself or as a side effect of treatment, it’s important to know that pain can—and should—be treated. Pain can be treated with medication and with acupuncture, physical therapy, visualization, breathing exercises, and more. When these treatments are used together, it is called integrative medicine.
There is no reason to “tough it out” or be shy about admitting that you are in pain. Not handling pain can make other symptoms or side effects of cancer worse. If you are in pain and don’t address it, you may feel depressed, exhausted, angry, worried, or stressed. Trying to live day to day with pain can be difficult and exhausting. Help yourself. Tell your health care team that you are in pain: when and how and where. Your doctor and the medical community know that cancer pain is a very real thing and want to help you manage it.
Researchers are always looking for new ways to improve pain management. A Journal of Clinical Oncology article published on December 7, 2015, shows how researchers improve and examine the treatment of pain. A team in Italy studied 240 people with cancer whose pain was treated with either (1) a low dose of the powerful painkiller morphine (multiple brand names) or (2) a weak opioid like tramadol (multiple brand names) or codeine with paracetamol (known in the United States as acetaminophen or Tylenol). Opioids are a class of powerful painkillers; morphine, codeine, and tramadol are all opioids with different strengths. At the end of the study, patients who took morphine had more pain relief, faster relief, and generally felt better.
The World Health Organization recommends that people with mild to moderate cancer pain should receive a weak painkiller (like codeine) before taking something stronger (like morphine). “In this study, low-dose morphine was much better in controlling pain than a weak opioid,” says Don S. Dizon, MD, FACP, and ASCO expert, “which could have important implications for the way we treat moderate pain in our patients. However, due to the short duration of this study, more research is needed on the long-term effectiveness and safety of low-dose morphine in this setting.”