Many people with end-stage cancer worry they could spend their final days in pain, but not everyone with cancer has pain. If you do, the health professionals caring for you will help you control the pain as much as possible.

Everyone experiences pain differently, so it might take time to find the right pain treatments for you. Controlling the pain may allow you to continue with activities you enjoy for some time and offer a better quality of life. Even if you have experienced pain from cancer, it will not necessarily get worse as you get closer to dying.

The right pain relief for you depends on the type of pain you have and how intense it is. You might be offered:

  • mild pain medicine, such as paracetamol and non-steroidal
    anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • moderate pain medicine, such as codeine
  • strong pain medicine, such as morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl.

You may also be given other types of medicine along with the main pain medicine. These could include:

  • antidepressants and anticonvulsants for nerve pain
  • local anaesthetics for nerve pain
  • anti-anxiety drugs for muscle spasms
  • a nerve block or epidurals (for pain that is difficult to manage).

Palliative care specialists are highly experienced in the management of pain and won’t let you be in unrelieved pain. Some people worry about becoming addicted to pain medicine, but this is not a concern with end-stage cancer.

For more on this, see Pain and cancer, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Help from family and friends

This is the time to let your family and friends help you. People often want to help in whatever way they can, so accept their assistance if they offer. If you want to complete a specific task, invite family members or friends to help, or make a list of tasks you’d like their assistance with.

You might like to ask one person to coordinate offers of help, or you could use a website such as or These websites allow members of your social circle to sign up for tasks you nominate and simplify the process of organising assistance.

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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