For Your Patients: Myths and Facts About the Management of Cancer Pain

December 1, 1996
Oncology NEWS International, Oncology NEWS International Vol 5 No 12, Volume 5, Issue 12

Myth: Cancer patients will become addicted to the morphine doctors prescribe for pain relief.

Myth: Cancer patients will become addicted to the morphinedoctors prescribe for pain relief.

Fact: Addiction to strong pain medications is rare in chroniccancer pain patients. Doctors can increase, decrease, or changepain medications to accommodate each individual's needs. Manypatients may need to take stronger medications to manage theirpain.

Myth: Cancer patients build tolerance to pain medication. Astheir disease progresses and they start to feel "real"pain, their medication does not work anymore.

Fact: Drug tolerance does develop, but it can be overcome. Physicianscan increase dosage levels or change prescriptions, dependingon what type of medication provides effective relief for eachpatient. There is no "ceiling dose" for the pain- relievingeffects of morphine.

Myth: When cancer patients ask for painmedication, their diseaseis worsening.

Fact: Pain may be caused by the cancer or by cancer treatments,including radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy. Sometimes the sourceof pain is unrelated to the cancer. Relieving cancer pain is anessential aspect in a patient's ability to fight disease. Cancerpain does not necessarily mean the disease is progressing to itsadvanced stages.

Myth: Side effects from pain medication cause cancer patientsto lose control.

Fact: All medicines have side effects, and each patient will experiencethem differently. Cancer pain medicines may cause drowsiness,but the feeling often subsides after the first few days. Othercommon side effects that gradually decrease during the first fewdays of treatment include nausea and vomiting. Feeling "high"or losing control after taking pain medications is rare, but patientsmay feel dizzy or confused. Changing the strength of the doseor the type of medication usually solves the problem.

Myth: Cancer patient who continually ask for painrelief distractdoctors and nurses from accurately treating their condition.

Fact: Expressing pain and receiving treatment for relief doesnot detract from the treatment of cancer. Using pain medicationswhen needed helps patients to eat meals, sleep during the night,and perform daily activities.

Use of pain medication improves cancer patients' quality of lifeand helps them to stay strong and rested for their cancer treatments.Effective pain management should always be a part of any cancertreatment program.

Myth: Patients need "shots" to relieve chronic pain

.

Fact: Oral pain medications are prescribed to treat approximately90% of cancer-related chronic pain. Other methods, including rectalsuppositories and transdermal patches, are used if swallowingbecomes difficult. Injections are usually not necessary in mostpatients.

Myth: Pain is an unavoidable aspect of having cancer.

Fact: Relief from pain is a patient's right, and not all patientsdiagnosed with cancer experience it. For those who do, pain canbe relieved or alleviated without interfering with the primarytreatment of the disease. Sometimes the pain is unrelated to theillness. Getting pain relief will result in better patient qualityof life and more effective cancer treatments.

Adapted from a National Cancer Pain Coalition release.