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Painkillers During Cancer Treatment

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Metastatic cancer and pain

Metastatic cancer is often painful especially if it spreads to the bones. This is either because the cancer attacks healthy bone cells and irritates and damages nerves or as a result of the chemotherapy treatment used to treat the primary cancer. In some cases of secondary bone cancer, radiotherapy can help relieve the pain by killing cancer cells in the bone allowing the body to heal with healthy bone tissue.

What is metastatic cancer?

Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from the area of the body where it first started to another place in the body. A tumour formed by metastatic cancer cells is called a metastatic tumour or a metastasis. The process by which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body is also called metastasis.

Metastatic cancer retains the same name and has the same type of cancer cells as the primary cancer. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the bones and formed a metastatic tumour is called metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.

What painkillers should I use?

The type of painkillers used during cancer treatment is dependent on the severity of pain. In many cases radiotherapy to kill cancer cells in bones takes some time to work so painkillers should be taken in the meantime. For mild pain painkillers such as aspirin or paracetemol can be taken. For moderate or severe pain patients are prescribed codeine or opiate-type medication.

Can taking painkillers have side-effects?

Some painkillers can cause constipation. This can be distressing and uncomfortable. It is best to try to prevent it happening in the first place. So you should take laxatives with painkillers – especially morphine based medicines.

10077 Published April 2012

Review Scheduled April 2013

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