- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Pain and cancer
- Using pain medicines
- Ways of taking medicines
Ways of taking medicines
Pain medicines are taken in several ways, depending on the type of medicine
and the form that it is available in.
Learn more about:
- The different ways of taking medicine
- Using medicines safely
- Tips for using pain medicines safely
- Travelling with medicines
tablet or capsule
This is the most common form of pain medicine. It is usually swallowed with water.
This may be an option if you have trouble swallowing tablets or for convenience.
A needle is inserted into a vein (intravenously), into a muscle (intramuscularly) or under the skin (subcutaneously).
This is stuck on your skin and gradually releases medicine into the body. Patches vary in how often they need to be changed, which may be daily, every few days or weekly – check your prescription.
|intravenous infusion||Medicine is slowly injected into a vein over many hours or days using a small plastic tube and pump. If a device is attached to the infusion, you press a button to release a set dose of medicine when you need it. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA).|
subcutaneous infusion (pump)
Medicine is slowly injected under the skin using a small plastic tube and portable pump. This can be given over many hours or days.
|sublingual tablet||This is put under the tongue and dissolves without chewing or sucking.|
intrathecal injection or infusion
Liquid medicine is delivered into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. This is commonly used to treat the most severe cancer pain.
A small pellet is put into the bottom (rectum). The pellet breaks down and the medicine is absorbed by the body. A suppository may be suitable if you have nausea or trouble swallowing.
Using medicines safely
All medicines may have side effects, particularly if they are not taken as directed or taken for too long. Taking some medicines for too long can make pain worse.
Using different medicines together
Some medicines can react with each other, and this can change how well they work or cause side effects. Let your doctor, nurse or pharmacist know if you’re taking any other medicines at the same time as your pain relief. This includes all prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, herbs and other supplements.
Many cold and flu pills and other over-the-counter medicines contain paracetamol or anti-inflammatories. These ingredients count towards your total daily dose, and you may need to take a lower dose of the pain medicine.
Medicines for colds, menstrual (period) pain, headaches, and joint or muscle aches often contain a mixture of drugs, including aspirin. People receiving chemotherapy should check with their oncologist before taking aspirin as it increases the risk of internal bleeding. Aspirin may also cause minor cuts to bleed a lot and take longer to stop bleeding.
Over-the-counter medicines for allergies may cause drowsiness, as can some pain medicines. Taking them together can make it dangerous to drive and to operate machinery.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) collects information about medicines and medical devices that haven’t worked well. You can search the Database of Adverse Event Notifications (DAEN).
Tips for using pain medicines safely
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist for written information about your pain medicines: what they are for; when and how to take them; possible side effects and how to manage them; and possible interactions with other medicines, vitamins or herbal supplements or remedies.
- Take only the prescribed dose. Do not stop taking a medicine or change the dose without talking to your doctor.
- Keep medicines in their original packaging or ask your pharmacist to put the medicines into a labelled blister pack to avoid dangerous mix-ups.
- Store medicines in a safe place that is out of reach of children.
- Write a note or set an alarm on your smartphone to remind yourself when to take your medicines.
- Ask your GP whether a pharmacist could check what medicines you’re taking and that you’re taking them correctly. This is known as a home medicines review.
- Check the expiry dates of medicines. If they are near or past their expiry, see your doctor for a new prescription.
- Take out-of-date medicines or any that you no longer need to the pharmacy for safe disposal.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist what activities are safe (e.g. driving, using machinery) when taking pain medicines.
- Call the Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 for information on medicines.
- Let your health care team know of any side effects. Call the Adverse Medicine Events Line on 1300 134 237 if you suspect you’ve had a reaction to any kind of medicine. If you need urgent assistance, call Triple Zero (000) or go to a hospital emergency department.
Travelling with medicines
You can take prescription and non-prescription medicines overseas if they’re for your personal use. A reasonable amount of medicine and medical equipment is allowed under powder, liquid, aerosol and gel restrictions.
Ways to prepare for travelling with medicines include:
- Ask your doctor if you need to change your medicine schedule to allow for time differences and if there are limits on the amount of medicines you can take overseas.
- Check with the consulates or embassies of the countries you’re visiting to make sure your medicine is legal there and if there are restrictions on how much medicine you can take with you.
- Put any medicines you need during the flight (include a few extra doses in case you are delayed) in your carry-on baggage ready for screening at the airport; pack the rest of your medicines in your checked baggage.
- Carry a letter from your doctor listing each medicine, how much you’ll be taking, and any equipment you need such as hypodermic needles or gel packs, and stating that the medicine is for your personal use.
- Keep medicines in their original packaging, which includes the label with your name, so they can be easily identified, and make sure the name on the medicines matches the name on the passport.
- Call the Travelling with PBS Medicines Enquiry Line on 1800 500 147 for more information.
Podcast: Managing Cancer Pain
Dr Tim Hucker, Pain Medicine Specialist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Keiron Bradley, Palliative Care Consultant, Bethesda Health Care, WA; A/Prof Anne Burke, Co-Director Psychology, Central Adelaide Local Health Network, President, Australian Pain Society, Statewide Chronic Pain Clinical Network, SA, School of Psychology, The University of Adelaide, SA; Tumelo Dube, Accredited Pain Physiotherapist, Michael J Cousins Pain Management and Research Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Paul Glare, Chair in Pain Medicine, Palliative Medicine Specialist, Pain Management Research Institute, The University of Sydney, NSW; Andrew Greig, Consumer; Annette Lindley, Consumer; Prof Melanie Lovell, Palliative Care Specialist HammondCare, Sydney Medical School and The University of Technology Sydney, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Melanie Proper, Pain Management Specialist Nurse Practitioner, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Dr Alison White, Palliative Medicine Specialist and Director of Hospice and Palliative Care Services, St John of God Health Care, WA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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