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Who treats pain

Coping with cancer

This page tells you about who treats cancer pain. Many people can help you. There is information about



You are probably the most important person in making sure that your pain is kept under control. Let someone know if you have pain. Don't leave it too long and think that you can handle it by yourself. If pain is not managed quickly, it can become very difficult to control. You will feel stressed if you are in pain. It will be harder for you to deal with relationships, any treatment you may be having, and everyday life. Try to be honest with yourself and tell people how much pain you have. Then they can help you to control the pain.

It may take a few hours or a few days for your doctors and nurses to get your pain completely under control. This will depend on

  • The type of treatment they use
  • Whether the treatment causes side effects
  • How long you have had the pain
  • How bad it is
  • What is causing it
  • How long it takes to find the right dose

To help you make informed decisions about pain relief, it is important that you understand the medical terms used by your cancer doctor and specialist nurses. Don't be afraid to ask questions and get them to explain things to you in terms you understand. For example, you may hear the term analgesia, which means painkilling drugs. Sometimes doctors and nurses forget that the words they use every day are not familiar to everyone. So let them know if you don't understand what they mean. There is a list of questions to ask your doctor at the end of this section.


Your specialist palliative care doctor

Some doctors spend all their time treating pain and symptoms. They are called palliative care doctors. Many hospitals now have dedicated pain clinics. These clinics are not just for people with cancer. The staff who work there are experts in treating all types of pain. If you are having treatment in a hospice or at home, the specialist team helping to manage your pain may be called a symptom control team or a palliative care team.



Anaesthetists are highly skilled in treating pain. As well as deciding which drugs to give to keep pain under control after an operation, they also help to treat other types of pain, such as cancer pain. They may be one of the key people helping to control your pain. Anaesthetists often run pain clinics and some use complementary therapies such as acupuncture, as well as conventional treatments, for example painkillers or nerve blocks.


Specialist palliative care nurses

Specialist nurses can help you and are skilled in treating cancer pain. They may be called palliative care nurses or symptom control nurses. Palliative treatment means treatment designed to relieve symptoms rather than cure illness. But palliative treatment can be used at any stage of illness if you have troubling symptoms or side effects of treatment, such as pain or sickness. Some hospitals have pain clinics run by Nurse Consultants who specialise in pain control.



Pharmacists check the safety of types, doses and combinations of drugs. They will make sure that you can take your painkillers safely with any other medicines you take.


Occupational therapists

Occupational therapists can help you find ways to manage everyday life. Some things may be more difficult when you have pain, such as eating, cooking or bathing. You can have a handrail put in beside your bath or shower, for example. This helps you to get in and out of the bath or shower more easily. It may prevent strain on joints and muscles that could make your pain worse.

The occupational therapists may recommend blocks to raise your armchair so that you can get up more easily. They can arrange home equipment, such as commodes, if your home circumstances make it difficult for you to get to the toilet.



Some physiotherapists are trained to care for people with cancer. They can help a great deal with careful exercises to make your joints and muscles more comfortable, breathing techniques to help you relax, and massage to control your pain.


Psychologists and counsellors

It is quite common for psychologists and counsellors to work in pain teams, particularly at chronic pain clinics. They cannot help to get rid of the pain physically. But they can help people with constant pain to live with it by finding ways of coping.


Other people

Other people who may be important in helping to control your pain include your family and friends, your GP, your district nurse, a psychiatrist, social worker and religious leaders. There is more information about how these people can provide support when you have pain in this section.

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Updated: 12 February 2015