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Frequently asked questions about cancer pain

Thursday 18 October, 2018

People experience pain in different ways and even those with the same type of cancer can have different experiences. Dr Tim Hucker (Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Pain Specialists Australia) is one of Victoria's leading pain specialists and lead reviewer of Overcoming Cancer Pain booklet. Dr Hucker spoke to us about questions people often ask him about cancer pain.

Do I need to put up with a certain amount of pain?

Some cancer and treatment, such as surgery, can be painful but uncontrolled pain is not normal. Some people put up with too much pain thinking that it is normal, or that it might impact on their treatment if they tell the doctor about it. Always speak to the doctor about your pain levels.

When is the right time to speak to someone about my pain?

Ideally, every time. Mention your pain at every appointment because there's often something doctors can do about it if it’s not under control, and this can be pretty simple. We know a lot of people suffer a lot of pain but their oncologist doesn't hear about it. Report your pain early so it can be managed.

Will I have to take strong painkillers if I report my pain?

Some people worry that if they ask for pain control they'll be put on strong painkillers like morphine. The guidelines tell us there are loads of other options including injections and interventions that a specialist can discuss with you.

Will treatment be stopped if I report too much pain?

People make better treatment decisions when their pain is well controlled, so reporting pain can open treatment windows rather than shutting them. It all starts with reporting the pain to the doctor.

Does pain mean the cancer has returned?

Most of the time the answer is no. This is one of the biggest questions we get and it causes a great deal of anxiety and stress for patients. Pain does need to be checked out and does need to be mentioned to the oncologist or surgeon, but pain does not always mean a return of cancer.

I have advanced cancer. Will I get severe pain?

Not always, and if someone does get severe pain then there are options to manage it. There is a lot of fear and anxiety around pain that often isn't related to what happens in the majority of cases.

Important things to remember

  • Always report pain to your treatment team
  • There may be options for managing pain other than strong painkillers
  • You can ask for a referral to a specialist for your pain
  • For more information, see our Overcoming Cancer Pain booklet

Overcoming Cancer Pain is an easy-to-read booklet for people diagnosed with cancer, their families and friends. Visit our website to download or order a free copy. For information and support call our cancer nurses on 13 11 20 or email askanurse@cancervic.org.au

We especially acknowledge and thank Dr Hucker for his time and contribution.


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