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Cancer treatments to reduce your pain

Palliative treatment is treatment that aims to control or stop symptoms rather than cure your cancer. You might have some side effects from palliative cancer treatments. But the aim is to make you feel better. So your cancer specialist will try to choose treatments that have as few side effects as possible.

Cancer treatments can help to reduce pain by shrinking a tumour and reducing pressure on nerves or surrounding tissues. After these cancer treatments, you might be able to cut down on your painkillers.

But it can take several weeks before you get the full benefits of the treatments. So you will need to carry on taking your painkillers in the meantime.

Treatments that you might have

Chemotherapy or targeted cancer drugs

Chemotherapy means using anti cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer cell to survive and grow.

Chemotherapy or targeted cancer drugs can shrink many types of cancer to reduce symptoms such as pain.

An example of this would be denosumab (pronounced den-oh-sue-mab). It helps to prevent fractures and other cancer related bone problems in adults with cancer that has spread to the bones.

Hormone treatments

Hormone treatment blocks or lowers the amount of hormones in the body to stop or slow down the growth of cancer. Hormone treatments can shrink some types of advanced cancer such as:

  • breast
  • prostate
  • womb

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy destroys the cancer cells in the treated area by damaging the DNA within these cells. Radiotherapy can give very good long lasting pain control for certain types of cancer pain such as bone pain.

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses heat made by radio waves to kill cancer cells.

Your doctors might recommend RFA if you can’t have surgery to treat your cancer. This could be because:

  • you have several tumours
  • the position of the cancer makes surgery difficult (for example, if it is near a major blood vessel)
  • you can’t have a general anaesthetic

Radiofrequency ablation can help with your symptoms, such as cancer pain.

Surgery

In some situations, doctors can use surgery to control pain. A surgeon might carry out an operation to take away as much of a tumour as possible.

This is called debulking. It can relieve pain by relieving pressure. It may also prevent complications developing, such as a blocked bowel.

Last reviewed: 
30 Oct 2020
Next review due: 
20 Oct 2023
  • Cancer Pain Management

    British Pain Society, 2010 (updated 2014)

  • Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine (5th edition)

    NI Cherney and others

    Oxford University Press, 2015