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Who treats cancer pain

Many people can treat cancer pain, from health professionals to counsellors. It’s worth knowing what each of them can do. There are also small things you can do to help yourself.

You might hear the term palliative care. Palliative care means treatment designed to relieve symptoms rather than cure illness. But palliative treatment can be helpful at any stage of illness if you have troubling symptoms or side effects of treatment. Examples of symptoms are pain or sickness.


You are probably the most important person in making sure your pain is kept under control.

Let someone know if you have pain. Don't leave it too long. You might think that you can handle it by yourself. But pain can be very difficult to control if it’s not managed quickly.

Being in pain will make you feel stressed. It will be harder for you to deal with relationships, any treatment you’re having and everyday life in general. So try to be honest with yourself and tell people how much pain you have. Then they can help you to control it.

Your specialist palliative care doctor

Some doctors spend all their time treating pain and symptoms. They are called palliative care doctors or symptom control doctors. They see patients in hospitals both on the wards and in clinics. You might be having treatment in a hospice or at home. And a member of the palliative care (symptom control) team might see you there.

Specialist palliative care nurses

Specialist nurses are skilled in treating cancer pain. You might hear them called palliative care nurses or symptom control nurses. Some hospitals have symptom control clinics run by Nurse Consultants who specialise in pain control.


Anaesthetists are highly skilled in treating pain. They decide which drugs to give to keep your pain under control after an operation. They also help to treat other types of pain, such as cancer pain.

Anaesthetists might have an important role in helping to control your pain. Some use complementary therapies such as acupuncture, as well as conventional treatments such as painkillers or nerve blocks.

Many hospitals now have dedicated pain clinics run by anaesthetists. These clinics are not just for people with cancer. The staff who work there are experts in treating all types of pain.


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 might have.

Occupational therapists

Occupational therapists can help you find ways to manage everyday life. Some occupational therapists can also give you relaxation advice to help with pain management.

Some things may be more difficult when you have pain, such as eating, cooking or bathing. 

The occupational therapists might 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, and massage to control your pain. They can also show you breathing techniques to help you relax. 

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 find ways of coping.

Other people

There are other people who might be important in helping to control your pain. This could include your family and friends, your GP, your district nurse, a psychiatrist, a social worker or a religious leader.

Last reviewed: 
30 Jan 2018
  • Management of cancer pain: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines
    C Ripamonti and others
    Annals of Oncology. 2012

    Volume 23, Supplement 7

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