Questions and Answers – Drug Pumps

Does more pain mean my cancer has gotten worse?

Not necessarily. You will need to discuss this with your doctor. Regardless of the stage of your cancer, the right treatment to relieve cancer pain may improve your quality of life.

What is an intrathecal drug pump?

An intrathecal drug pump (drug delivery therapy) is designed to manage pain by delivering medication to the intrathecal space that surrounds the spinal cord. Unlike conventional pain therapies that delivery medications into the bloodstream, which then circulate throughout the body, drug delivery therapy is targeted. It releases medication directly into the intrathecal space, leading to significantly lower doses of pain medication and fewer adverse side effects.1-5

How does a drug pump work?

When the pump and catheter release prescribed amounts of pain medication directly to the receptors near the spine, it interrupts the pain signals before they reach the brain. You return to your doctor's office for more medication when the pump needs to be refilled.

Is a drug pump right for me?

Talk with your doctor to determine what kinds of pain treatments may work for you. The choice of treatment depends on the type of pain, how severe it is, and how you respond to your pain treatment. If your doctor thinks you are a good candidate for a drug pump, you can undergo a screening test. The screening test allows you to experience the therapy and help determine if you are a good candidate for long-term therapy.

Is the pump new?

No. The pump has been approved by the FDA since 1991 and has helped thousands of people worldwide.

Will drug delivery treatment completely eliminate my pain?

Many people experience significant improvements in their pain symptoms and quality of life after receiving Medtronic drug delivery therapy. However, realistic expectations are essential to satisfaction with any pain treatment. Drug delivery therapy cannot eliminate the source of your pain or cure any underlying disease, but it may help you to better manage your pain.

Isn't it easy to become addicted to pain medication?

This is a common misperception. In fact, medical research shows the chance of an individual with cancer pain becoming addicted to pain relieving drugs is extremely small.6

Will the drug pump eliminate other sources of pain?

Your pump will typically not provide relief from other types of pain such as headaches, stomachaches, fractures, etc.

What is the surgery like?

The surgery to implant the system takes approximately 1 to 3 hours and a brief hospital stay is recommended. Typically, the surgery is performed under general anesthesia. Talk with your doctor for more information about the potential risks from the surgical procedure.

What do I need to know about opioids (pain medication) used in my pump?

There are risks associated with the use of any opioid pain medication. For more details, see opioid pain medication question and answers.


  1. Onofrio BM, Yaksh TL. Long-Term Pain Relief Produced by Intrathecal Infusion in 53 Patients. J Neurosurg 1990; 72: 200-209.
  2. Winkelmuller M, Winkelmuller W. Long-Term Effects of Continuous Intrathecal Opioid Treatment in Chronic Pain of Nonmalignant Etiology. J Neurosurg 1996; 85: 458-467.
  3. Paice JA, Penn RD, Shott S. Intraspinal Morphine for Chronic Pain: A Retrospective, Multicenter Study. J Pain Symptom Manage 1996; 11(2): 71-80.
  4. Lamer TJ. Treatment of Cancer-Related Pain: When Orally Administered Medications Fail. Mayo Clin Proc 1994; 69:473-480.
  5. Portenoy RK. Management of Common Opioid Side Effects During Long-Term Therapy of Cancer Pain. Ann Acad Med 1994; 23:160-170.
  6. Smith TJ, Staats PS, Deer T, Randomized Clinical Trial of an Implantable Drug Delivery System Compared with Comprehensive Medical Management for Refractory Cancer Pain: Impact on Pain, Drug-Related Toxicity and Survival. J Clin Oncol. 2002;20:4040-4049.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 9 Dec 2011

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