What painkillers are | Cancer Research UK
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What painkillers are

Coping with cancer

This page gives information about painkillers for cancer. There is information about



Painkillers are also called analgesics or analgesia. There are many different types and strengths of painkillers suitable for different types of pain. If you have mild pain you usually have simple painkillers, such as paracetamol. If you have moderate pain you usually have treatment with opioid painkillers, such as codeine. If you have ongoing or severe pain you usually have morphine type opioid painkillers.

An experienced doctor or nurse can judge which type of painkiller is best for you. The important thing is that you have the right type of painkiller for your pain and the right dose. You might also have anti inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Nurofen) alongside any of the other painkillers. Or anti depressants or anti epileptic drugs to help with nerve pain.  Find out more about these different types of painkillers


Taking painkillers

If you are taking painkillers to control pain, it is very, very important that you take them regularly as prescribed by your doctor. Some people try to take as few as possible by spacing them out. Then you may be in pain before you take your next tablet. This is not good pain control. The idea is that you should take your next dose before you are in pain again.

If your pain is not controlled, you can get nerve changes that make the pain more difficult to control in the future. So it is important to take painkillers regularly enough to keep the pain under control. It is better for your body, and your quality of life, to take a regular dose rather than to swing between taking nothing at all and then taking a large dose because you have severe pain.


If you still have pain

There are many different painkillers for mild, moderate and severe pain. It is important to help your doctor or nurse get your dose right by giving honest, detailed information about your pain and how well your painkillers are working. If your painkillers are not controlling your pain, there are plenty of others to try. Or you may need to have a slightly higher dose. You could also try some of the other ways of controlling pain on the previous page of this section.

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Updated: 17 February 2015