Many people with cancer of unknown primary (CUP) worry that they will be in pain. Not everyone will experience pain, and those who do may find it comes and goes. Pain depends on the location of the cancer and its size.
Learn more about:
Options for relieving pain
There are many options for relieving pain. These include:
- pain medicines, such as paracetamol; ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; and opioids
- an injection of pain-relieving drugs into the spinal column (epidural or spinal block)
- relaxation therapies, such as massage, meditation, mindfulness meditation or hypnotherapy
- treating the cause of the pain with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.
You may need to use more than one method to relieve pain. It may take time to find the right pain-control measure for you. If one method doesn’t work, you can try something else.
Treatments used to relieve pain
Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery are common cancer treatments. They may also be used as palliative treatment for pain.
Chemotherapy – This treatment can shrink the size of a tumour that is pressing on nerves or organs and causing pain.
Radiation therapy – This treatment can be used to relieve most types of pain. The most common form of radiation therapy for pain is external beam radiation therapy. If cancer has spread to many places in the bone and is causing pain, another form of radiation therapy may be used. In this case, the doctor gives you an injection of a radioactive form of the metal strontium, which then settles in the bones near the cancer.
Surgery – Surgery can sometimes remove an isolated tumour. It can also be used to treat a serious condition such as a bowel blockage (obstruction) that is causing pain, or to reduce the size of the cancer and improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Pain management experts
Your GP or oncologist may be able to suggest effective medicine for your pain, but if you are still uncomfortable, you can ask to see a palliative care specialist. Good pain control is one of the major ways a specialist palliative care team can help someone whose pain is difficult to manage.
How and where the pain is felt, and how it affects your life, may change. Regular check-ups with pain management experts can help keep the pain under control. It’s better to take your pain medicine regularly, rather than waiting for the pain to occur.
For more on this, see Pain and cancer.
Podcast: Managing Pain When Cancer is Advanced
Prof Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist, Clinical Researcher, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Christine Bradfield, Consumer; Cindy Bryant, Consumer; Dr Maria Cigolini, Head, Department of Palliative Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and Clinical Lecturer, The University of Sydney, NSW; Mary Duffy, Advanced Practice Nurse and Nurse Coordinator, Lung Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Siobhan O’Neill, Medical Oncologist, Nelune Comprehensive Cancer Centre, NSW; Prof Penelope Schofield, Department of Psychological Sciences and the Iverson Health Innovation Research Institute, Swinburne University of Technology, and Head, Behavioural Science in Cancer, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Frank Stoss, Consumer.
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