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Treatment Options for Chronic Cancer Pain

Cancer Pain

Cancer pain is often treated with medication and pain-relieving techniques such as relaxation and exercise. Sometimes, these options don't relieve the pain or they cause side effects like nausea, confusion, and constipation. You don't have to live this way. It is possible to manage your pain without experiencing intolerable side effects. One treatment that aims to reduce uncontrolled cancer pain while minimizing side effects is targeted drug delivery from Medtronic.

The choice for your treatment depends on your specific needs: the type and severity of pain, as well as how you respond to pain treatment. Not all treatments may be applicable to your type of pain. Treatments include:

Non-Drug Treatments

Techniques such as relaxation, biofeedback, imagery, hypnosis, acupuncture, exercise, and counselling help many people use less pain medication. Your doctor can help you contact health professionals with experience using these techniques.

Nonopioid Oral Medications (Pills)

Doctors often try nonopioid oral medications first. They include over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen.

Opioid Combination Therapy (Pills)

Opioid combination therapy is usually prescribed to control moderate pain that is episodic, such as breakthrough pain. These prescription medications combine acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen, with an opioid (such as codeine, hydrocodone, or oxycodone).

Systemic Opioid Therapy

Systemic opioids may be administered orally by mouth or through a needle inserted into a vein (intravenous) or under the skin (subcutaneous). Intravenous dosing provides the most rapid onset of pain relief, but this effect is short-acting. Long-acting oral opioids have the advantage of controlling severe pain throughout the day. Likewise, skin patches (transdermal) slowly release opioids over time, providing long-term pain control.

Targeted Drug Delivery

If oral or transdermal medications or injections no longer provide cancer pain relief or cause uncomfortable side effects, your doctor may consider targeted drug delivery. Unlike pain medications that circulate throughout your bloodstream, targeted drug delivery releases medicine directly into the intrathecal space, where fluid flows around the spinal cord. Having an implanted drug delivery system is considered “long-term therapy.” Before committing to long-term therapy, a screening test is performed to determine if intrathecal drug delivery effectively controls your pain.

Neurolytic Blocks

Neurolytic blocks are used to treat cancer pain via an injection of a chemical (such as alcohol, phenol, or glycerol) or a physical agent (such as freezing or heating) to temporarily stop pain messages.


With neuroablation, doctors destroy (usually with heat) the nerves that serve as pathways to the brain. Neuroblation is often a last resort when other treatments have failed.

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.