Cancer treatment for pain relief

Cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy can reduce pain by helping to remove its cause. Cancer treatment aimed at relieving pain, rather than curing the disease, is called palliation or palliative treatment.

Depending on the cancer, and the location and nature of the pain, the treatments below may be used specifically for pain management.

Learn more about these treatments for pain relief:

Listen to our podcast on Managing Cancer Pain


Some people may have an operation to remove part or all of a tumour from the body. This may be a major, invasive operation or a relatively minor procedure. Surgery can help relieve or improve pain caused by tumours pressing on nerves or obstructing organs.

Examples include unblocking the bile duct to relieve jaundice, which can occur with pancreatic cancer, or removing a bowel obstruction, which can occur with ovarian or bowel cancer.

Learn more about surgery.

Radiation therapy

Also known as radiotherapy, this treatment uses a controlled dose of radiation, usually in the form of x-ray beams, to kill or damage cancer cells so they cannot grow, multiply or spread. This will cause tumours to shrink and stop causing discomfort. For example, radiation therapy can relieve pain if cancer has spread to the bones, or headaches if cancer has increased the pressure in the brain.

Usually only one or two sessions of radiation therapy are needed. It can take a few days or weeks before your pain improves. You will need to keep taking your pain medicines during this time. The dose of radiation therapy used to treat pain is low, and the treatment has very few side effects other than tiredness for a while.

Learn more about radiation therapy.

Drug therapies

Drug therapies may be used for an extended period of time to control the cancer’s growth and stop it spreading. The drugs reach cancer cells throughout the body. This is called systemic treatment, and includes:

  • chemotherapy – the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells
  • hormone therapy – the use of synthetic hormones to stop the body’s natural hormones from helping some cancers to grow
  • targeted therapy – the use of drugs to attack specific molecules within cells that make cancer grow and spread
  • immunotherapy – treatment that triggers the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

In some cases, drug therapies can shrink tumours that are causing pain, such as a tumour on the spine that cannot be operated on. By shrinking a cancer that is causing pain and other symptoms, drug therapies can improve quality of life.

In other cases, drug therapies can reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms of advanced cancer, such as bone pain. They can also be used as maintenance treatment to try to prevent the cancer coming back.

Learn more about chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Pain and Cancer.

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Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in September 2018
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