Caring for someone in pain

Caring for someone who is in pain can be very difficult and stressful. It’s natural to feel upset and helpless at times – it can be distressing to watch someone you love suffer.

This information answers some common questions carers might have. If you have other concerns, read Caring for Someone with Cancer or contact Carers Australia on 1800 242 636 for support.

Questions you may like to ask:

What if the person with cancer asks for more pain medicine?

Only the person with cancer can feel how much pain they are in. If you have been using a pain scale together, this can help you both communicate about the need for extra doses. The person with cancer may be experiencing breakthrough pain and may need a top-up dose. If this occurs regularly, they should see their doctor again for advice on managing it.

If you’re still worried the person with cancer is taking or wanting to take too much medicine, talk with their doctor about the dose they can safely have and other ways to help manage the pain.

Should I keep opioids locked up?

As with all medicines, it is necessary to keep opioids away from children, perhaps in a high cupboard. If a member of your household or a visitor has a drug-dependence problem, it is safest to keep the opioids in a secure place.

When should I call the medical team?

Call a doctor or nurse for advice if the person with cancer:

  • becomes suddenly drowsy or confused
  • hasn’t had a bowel motion for four days or more
  • is vomiting and cannot take the pain relief
  • has severe pain despite top-up doses
  • is having difficulty taking the medicine or getting the prescriptions filled
  • experiences other symptoms that the treatment team has mentioned, such as hallucinations with particular drugs.

What if they lose consciousness?

If the person with cancer becomes unconscious unexpectedly, call the doctor, nurse or 000 immediately. Do not give opioids to an unconscious or very drowsy person.

This information was last reviewed in September 2015
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment

Work and cancer
Information for employees, employers and workplaces dealing with cancer

Cancer information

What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads

Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends