PHYSICIAN VOICES
5 Tips for Managing Pain During Cancer Treatment

  • female patient describing neck pain to male nurse
    Talk to your doctor about your pain relief options.
    If you’re experiencing pain during cancer treatment, there’s no reason to suffer in silence. There are many tools available to ease pain from cancer or cancer treatment, including pharmaceutical options and complementary therapies. Make sure your oncologist is aware of your symptoms and keep trying new strategies until you find the one that works best for you.

  • Doctor performing acupuncture
    1. Try acupuncture.
    In 1997, the National Institute of Health had a summit where they suggested that acupuncture may be helpful for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Since that time, a lot of research has been done in a number of cancer-related areas showing that acupuncture may benefit patients by reducing stress levels and pain, among others. I’m a big fan of acupuncture, and many of my colleagues at the cancer center where I work are recommending acupuncture now, since they’ve seen how much it has benefitted our patients.

  • woman receiving massage
    2. Get a massage.
    People with cancer sometimes think they shouldn’t get massages because they increase the risk of cancer spreading. That is not true—massage has not been demonstrated to spread cancer. And massage can be very useful for decreasing patients’ pain levels, as well as reducing their stress. I encourage patients to practice self-care during the treatment process, and massage is one excellent way of doing that.

  • man and woman meditation together outside
    3. Say “Ommm.”
    Mind-body interventions, including meditation, breathing exercises, biofeedback, and guided imagery can be useful in decreasing pain, as well. I’ll give all my patients a catalogue of guided imagery CD-ROMs to help them clear their minds and help them relax, which can help ease their pain. The most important part of all these techniques is becoming aware of your breathing. I coach patients to breathe in for four seconds, hold their breath for seven seconds, and then exhale for eight seconds. This practice can reset your emotional balance and help loosen up your body so you’re not as focused on the pain and stress.

  • smiling woman in yoga class
    4. Practice yoga.
    I started practicing yoga when I was 60 years old and I recommend it enthusiastically to my patients. It reduces stress levels, gives you more control over your emotions, and at its core is about strength, balance, and flexibility. Yoga can also serve as a type of meditation and breathing exercise, which are both techniques known to relieve pain on their own. Clinical trials have demonstrated that yoga is effective for reducing pain in patients living with and beyond cancer.

  • close up of medical marijuana
    5. Consider cannabis.
    If you live in one of the increasing number of states where medicinal cannabis is available, I have found it to be an effective agent for treatment of cancer-related pain. While not studied specifically for cancer-related nerve damage, cannabis has been shown to be beneficial in alleviating other sorts of nerve damage pain, a problem many patients experience following chemotherapy. In addition, there is increasing evidence that patients on opiates for pain may be able to reduce their dose or eliminate the opiates altogether with cannabis. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive ingredient in the plant, but other compounds, such as cannabidiol (CBD), may relieve pain without the “high” associated with THC. And nowadays, smoking is not the only delivery system for cannabis medicines–a wide variety of preparations are available.

5 Tips for Managing Pain During Cancer Treatment

About The Author

Dr. Donald Abrams is a Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and Chief of Hematology/Oncology at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. He also provides integrative oncology consultations at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and formerly served as President of the Society for Integrative Oncology. View his Healthgrades profile >
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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.