Overcoming Cancer PainDownload this book (pdf, 0 B)
Using pain medications
Medications that relieve pain are called analgesics. They do not affect the cause of the pain, but they can reduce pain effectively.
The medication that is best for you depends on the type of pain you have and how severe it is.
- Having your medication regularly is the best way to prevent pain from starting or getting worse.
- Different pain medications take different amounts of time to work - for some medication, it is only a few minutes, for others, it is several hours.
- Some pain medication even needs to be taken for several days or weeks before you get the best relief, so it is important to keep taking it, even if you think it's not working.
- The dose of pain medication should be enough to control the pain until the next scheduled dose. If the pain relief is wearing off before the next dose is due, tell your doctor or nurse.
Ask your doctor or nurse for written information about your pain medications: what they are for, when and how to take them, their possible side effects and what you can do about them.
Ways of taking medications
Pain medications can be taken in different ways.
|tablet or capsule||The most common way to take pain medications. Take your medication with a glass of water or other drink, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Do not take with alcohol.|
|liquid medicine||Placed under the tongue and easily swallowed without water. It may be available if you have trouble swallowing tablets.|
|lozenges||Placed under the tongue, then sucked or held in the mouth to dissolve.|
|injection||A needle is briefly inserted into a vein (intravenously), into a muscle (intramuscularly), or under the skin (subcutaneously) to give the medication. You may be able to do your own subcutaneous injections but the other types must be done by a doctor or nurse.|
|skin patch||This gradually releases pain medication into the body.|
|subcutaneous infusion||Medication is slowly injected under the skin using a needle and pump for many hours or days.|
|intravenous infusion||Medication is slowly injected into a vein using a needle and pump over many hours or days.|
|intrathecal injection||An injection into the spinal canal. It is most commonly used to numb the spine (spinal anaesthesia) and for some types of chemotherapy.|
|suppository||A pellet to place in the lower bowel or rectum. It may suit you if you have nausea or trouble swallowing.|
- Store all medications carefully and out of children's reach.
- Keep medications in their original packaging so you and other people always know what they're for.
- If you're worried about forgetting to take medications, write a note or set an alarm rather than leaving out pills or putting them in a pill box.
- Regularly check the expiry dates of medications. If they are near or past their expiry, see your doctor for a new prescription.
- Take old medications to the pharmacy to dispose of them safely.
- If you want independent information about your medications call the National Prescribing Service Medicines Line on 1300 633 424.
- If you suspect you've had a reaction to any kind of medicine, call the Consumer Adverse Medications Event Line on 1300 134 237.
Care with other medications
When you are taking pain medications, ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about taking any other medications, including vitamin supplements and herbal medicines, at the same time. This is because different medications can sometimes change the way other medications work.
- Many pills for colds and flu, and other over-the-counter medications, can be taken with analgesics without any harmful effects. However, some over-the-counter medications contain pain relievers, so a lower dose of pain medication may be needed.
- Medications for colds, period pain, headaches and joint or muscle aches often contain a mixture of drugs, including aspirin. People receiving chemotherapy should avoid aspirin because it increases the risk of internal bleeding.
- Over-the-counter medications for allergies may cause drowsiness, as can some pain medications.
- Check whether it is safe to take nutritional supplements and herbal medicines with your pain medications.
Q: What if the person with cancer asks for more medication?
A: Only the patient can feel how much pain they are in. Use a pain scale together to communicate about the need for extra doses. If the patient is experiencing breakthrough pain, they may need a top-up dose. If this occurs regularly, talk with the patient's doctor for advice on managing it.
Q: Should I keep opioids locked up?
A: Keep opioids out of reach of children, and if a member of your household or a visitor has a drug-dependence problem, keep the opioids in a secure place. Keep medications in their original packaging.
Q: Can someone taking opioids sign legal documents?
A: People need to be mentally competent and aware when signing legal documents. If opioids are making the patient drowsy, it is sensible to delay making any decisions or signing any legal documents until their condition has stabilised. If you are unsure, ask your GP to examine the patient to determine their fitness to sign.
Q: If the patient is unconscious, should I stop giving them medication?
A: Unconscious patients in pain become restless, especially if regular doses of opioids are missed. Seek advice from the doctor, and if a patient becomes unconscious unexpectedly, call the doctor or nurse immediately.
Q: When should I call the patient's medical team?
A: If the patient suddenly becomes drowsy or confused; has not had a bowel motion for four or more days; is vomiting and cannot take the pain relief; has ongoing severe pain; is unable to take the medication.
- See the information Caring for Someone with Cancer.
- Call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20 for support and information.
- Call Carers NSW on 1800 242 636 for support in your caring role.