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How do I Choose the Best Cancer Pain Treatment?

Nick Mann
Nick Mann

Many cancer patients will experience at least some level of pain or discomfort. Although cancer itself can be a source of pain, patients may also have pain resulting from treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy. Fortunately, pain can usually be effectively controlled with the appropriate medication. The main medications available include narcotic pain relievers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics. Choosing the best cancer pain treatment option will mainly depend on the patient's type and level of pain.

Narcotic pain relievers are reserved for patients who experience moderate to severe pain. They come in two main forms: onset narcotics — for sudden pain flare-ups — and regular narcotics. Narcotic pain relievers almost always require a prescription, and are recommended only if less-potent medications have proven ineffective. One of the most common narcotic pain relievers is codeine. It and other similar medications often have side effects like drowsiness.

An oncologist can prescribe pain medications for cancer patients.
An oncologist can prescribe pain medications for cancer patients.

Onset narcotics are similar to normal narcotics, but provide even more potent relief for pain. This type of medication is only intended for the worst cases and patients suffering from very severe and sudden pain. Common types of these medications include morphine and oxycodone. Onset narcotics are often habit forming and always require a prescription.

Those with less severe symptoms may take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for cancer pain treatment. These drugs reduce pain, but also lessen swelling, inflammation and fever. NSAIDs have proven to be helpful for many patients and are often sufficient at controlling varying degrees of cancer pain. Some types of NSAIDs, such as naproxen, require a prescription. Common NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, have minimal side effects and don't require a prescription.

For patients experiencing mild pain, analgesic medications can be purchased over the counter. They work by blocking pain signals being sent to the brain and have minimal side effects. Tylenol® (acetaminophen) is probably the best known and most widely available type of analgesic on the market. This and other types of analgesic medication can be easily acquired at most drug stores without a physician's prescription.

Patients with mild to moderate pain can obtain analgesics and NSAIDs without a prescription. It's often a good idea, however, for cancer patients to visit their doctor before attempting any cancer pain treatment. For patients experiencing moderate to severe pain, it is almost always necessary to see a doctor to get an effective narcotic medication prescribed.

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    • An oncologist can prescribe pain medications for cancer patients.
      By: Feng Yu
      An oncologist can prescribe pain medications for cancer patients.