Pain at a glance

Most people with cancer will not have significant problems with cancer-related pain. But for those who do, controlling pain needs to be a priority. Upfront, we strongly encourage you to let your doctor know as soon as possible if you are having moderate or severe pain that is not being managed well with the medications and therapies available to you. Many people wait, thinking they shouldn’t bother their family and doctor at night or on the weekend. Others are afraid to find out what’s causing the pain or to take strong pain relief medicines. Some have other reasons. 

No one who cares about you wants you to suffer. If you are suffering, those who care don’t want you to suffer in silence and alone. Speak out, reach out, and let others be with you in and through your pain. Their presence with you is where comfort begins.

Uncontrolled pain greatly reduces your quality of life, wearing you down and making other issues seem worse. Pain may contribute to body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more imbalances linked to cancer growth, such as changes in stress hormones and increased inflammation. Pain can also lead to worse symptoms among people with cancer, such as depression, sleep disturbance, and distress. People whose persistent cancer-related painpain connected to cancer that occurs frequently or constantly throughout the day if not managed well; persistent pain can range from mild to severe is controlled may even live longer than those with uncontrolled pain and other symptoms that can affect your experience of pain. 

Controlling cancer-related pain is both a science and an art. Specialists in cancer care are trained either to help you manage your pain or to refer you to pain experts, such as palliative care specialists. Help is available, and the first step is reporting your pain to your doctor. While addiction to opioids is a concern, it can often be prevented by following directions and getting medical supervision.

Top practices and therapies for managing pain

The effects of these practices and therapies on pain are described in What approaches can help you manage pain? ›

Therapies and practices we have reviewed

Further therapies

Therapies recommended in clinical practice guidelines; see guidelines ›

Aquatic therapy 

Cold, heat

Electromagnetics

Hypnotherapy (hypnosis)

Massage therapy

Music therapy

Reflexology

Traditional Chinese herbal medicines

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

Ultrasonic stimulation

Psychosocial therapies:

  • Behavioral treatment
  • Cognitive-behavioral stress management (CBSM)
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Support groups
  • Supportive/expressive therapy

Keep reading about pain

Authors

Laura Pole, MSN, RN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, MSN, RN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher and writer for CancerChoices and also served as the first program manager. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher

Reviewer

Wayne B. Jonas, MD

Integrative physician and CancerChoices advisor
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Dr. Wayne B. Jonas is a practicing family physician, an expert in integrative health and healthcare delivery, and a widely published scientific investigator. Dr. Jonas is the executive director of Samueli Integrative Health Programs, an effort supported by Henry and Susan Samueli to increase awareness and access to integrative health and supporting the scientific investigation of healing processes in the areas of stress, pain, and resilience. Additionally, Dr. Jonas is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Medical Corps of the United States Army. From 2001 to 2016, he was president and chief executive officer of Samueli Institute, he was the director of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1995 to 1999, and prior to that served as the director of the Medical Research Fellowship at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Dr. Jonas’s research has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of the American Medical AssociationNatural MedicineThe Journal of Family PracticeThe Annals of Internal Medicine, and The Lancet. His books include the 2018 best seller How Healing Works: Get Well and Stay Well Using Your Hidden Power to Heal.

Dr. Jonas received the 2015 Pioneer Award from the Integrative Healthcare Symposium, the 2007 America’s Top Family Doctors Award, the 2003 Pioneer Award from the American Holistic Medical Association, the 2002 Physician Recognition Award of the American Medical Association, and the 2002 Meritorious Activity Prize from the International Society of Life Information Science in Chiba, Japan.

Dr. Jonas’s view: “We know so little about the mystery of life and the body that we need to consider all systems and explanations for their wisdom.”

Wayne B. Jonas, MD Integrative physician and CancerChoices advisor

Last update: May 6, 2024

Last full literature review: August 2022

We are grateful to Dr. Giovanni Elias for his review of several sections of this handbook.

CancerChoices provides information about integrativein cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care, and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocialtherapy, and acupuncture therapies and self carelifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.