Myth #1: Everyone experiences pain with cancer.


  • About half of people with cancer experience pain at some point – but about half don’t.
  • Pain management is part of cancer treatment. In most cases pain can be controlled.
  • Those with advanced cancer usually experience more pain than someone newly diagnosed.

Learn about the different types of pain, its causes, and how pain can be measured  Causes of cancer pain: Pain can be caused by the tumor itself, cancer tests or procedures done, or it can occur as a side effect of treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy).  There can be more than one cause of pain. Some pain ends when treatment ends but some pain can be ongoing and chronic. Types of Pain:

  • Acute pain – this type of pain comes on quickly but it does not last long. It can be mild, moderate, or severe.
  • Chronic pain -this type of pain can be consistent or it can get worse, lasing a long time. Again, it can be mild, moderate, or severe.
  • Breakthrough pain – this type of pain is usually a sudden increase in intense pain that “breaks through” the pain medications being taken to control pain, typically between does. It lasts for a short time. There are medications specifically used to treat this type of pain.

Pain Severity: Everyone experiences pain differently. It’s a good idea to keep a record of your pain to share with your healthcare team. Using one of the customizable logs in section 2 of Bag It’s My Companion Guidebook is an easy way to track your pain. You can use the scale below to assess your pain’s severity and type, noting when, where, how it feels (e.g. “burning,” “stabbing,” “throbbing) and other pertinent details on the form. Make copies to give to your healthcare team at your next appointment. This will help them to determine a pain management plan tailored just for you. Using a scale from “0” to “10”:

  • 0 means no pain
  • 1 to 3 means mild pain
  • 4 to 6 means moderate pain
  • 7 to 10 means severe pain


Myth #2: Only opioid medications relieve cancer pain.


  • Non-opioid medications may be effective pain relievers depending on the type of pain someone is experiencing.
  • Palliative surgery or radiation therapy is sometimes performed to ease symptoms and increase comfort.
  • Palliative (supportive care) is care that focuses on relieving the symptoms of cancer, like pain, and other impacts on your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
  • Physical therapy, exercise, complementary and integrative medicine therapies such as acupuncture, massage and relaxation techniques are possible ways to manage pain without medication.

A personalized pain management plan prescribed by your healthcare team could include one or more of the above treatments to improve your quality of life. It’s important to talk openly with your healthcare team if you are experiencing pain. In addition to describing the pain in detail, let them know how it is impacting your daily life.

Palliative care (supportive care)

Palliative care is not hospice care. The aim of palliative, or supportive, care is to improve quality of life and maintain independence by reducing symptoms, managing pain, and supporting patients and their families. The aim of hospice care is to help the patient approach the end of life with peace, respect, and dignity, and it includes palliative care. Palliative care is an approach to care that addresses the person as a whole, not just their disease. The goal is to prevent or treat, as early as possible, the symptoms and side effects of the disease and its treatment, in addition to any related psychological, social, and spiritual problems. You can receive palliative care at any age and at any stage. Receiving palliative care does not mean that you will no longer receive treatment for the disease. People often receive treatment to slow, stop, or eliminate cancer in addition to treatment to ease discomfort. In fact, research shows that people who receive both types of treatment often have less severe symptoms, a better quality of life, and report they are more satisfied with treatment. Ask your healthcare team about the ways palliative care might be helpful to you and your family.

Additional Resources on Pain

ASCO Answers: Managing Cancer-Related Pain

Cancer Pain Control: Support for People With Cancer

ASCO’s booklet, Palliative Care

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