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The Four Myths of Pain Medication

Some cancers can be a real pain. But medications almost always provide relief.

Cancer can be a pain in the neck, arm, leg, stomach — or just about anywhere. While it's not inevitable you'll have pain with cancer, it's a distinct possibility.

See also: The Cancer Survivor's New Battle

The good news is that more than 90 percent of cancer-related pain can be controlled with medication. And many nondrug alternatives, such as massage, yoga, hypnosis and relaxation, may also help.

According to Dr. Krishna Boddu, associate professor of the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, any pain that interferes with daily living should be checked out. This includes pain that stops you from completing everyday actions such as:

  • Taking a deep breath
  • Coughing and clearing your lungs
  • Performing routine, simple tasks
  • Moving and walking comfortably


So what's the problem? According to Boddu, many people do not seek help for their pain because they believe in one of the following myths:

Mature woman arranging pills in row

— Julie Toy/Getty Images

Myth: Cancer pain or pain after surgery is inevitable.

Fact: Extreme pain is not normal, and it is usually largely or completely relieved with medication or other methods.

Myth: Pain medication is addictive.

Fact: When pain medicines are prescribed properly and taken as directed, addiction is rare. Less than 1 percent of all cancer patients have addiction problems.

Myth: Medication causes uncomfortable side effects.

Fact: Many side effects of pain medications improve with time; others can be managed.

Myth: Taking too many medications is unhealthy.

Fact: Taking several medications at once can control pain more effectively with minimal side effects, because each drug can be given in a smaller dose.

If you decide to take medication for pain, be sure to:

Take your medications regularly and exactly as prescribed.

Give feedback on pain and other symptoms to your health care team. Let them know if you have: new pain, a change in the intensity of pain or unrelieved pain, ongoing nausea, abnormal or no bowel movements for three days or more, feelings of oversedation or difficulty waking up, or confusion.

Remember that there's no magic pill that immediately takes care of any kind of pain. Pain often is complex and highly subjective. Be patient, and communicate with your health care provider so that he or she can help you find relief.


Printed with permission from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center © 2010.

Medical Disclaimer for AARP.org

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