Pain Management

What Patients Need to Know

Often, people living with cancer worry about pain. There are common misunderstandings and fears many patients, family members and caregivers have about pain control. 

Many people believe pain medication does not control pain.


Almost all pain can be controlled. At Roswell Park Cancer Institute, medications are the most common way to control pain. There are different types of medications for different types of pain and different way of administering pain medication, such as a PCA pump. Along with medication, physical therapy, occupational therapy and psychological therapies may prove helpful in controlling pain.

Many patients are afraid to take narcotic (or opioid) pain medications because they think they will become "hooked" or addicted.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute patients and their caregivers need to know that addiction among patients in pain is very rare! Taking the medication as your doctor and nurse instruct you to will not make you an addict. If you are worried, talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Some believe "good" patients don’t talk about their pain.

Pain medications can have side effects such as sleepiness, nausea and constipation but these problems can be easily treated. Discuss any symptoms with your doctor or nurse so they can help.

Some patients worry that complaints of pain could distract a doctor from treating the underlying illness.

Your doctors and nurses want to find out what is causing your pain so it is important to discuss all your symptoms with them. They will examine you, ask specific questions about your pain level and may order some diagnostic tests. All this information will help find the cause of your pain and make you more comfortable.

Some patients believe that pain medication should be saved in case the pain gets worse.

The right time to treat pain is when it starts. This is true even with strong medications. It is very important to take the pain medications exactly as your doctor prescribed you in order to keep your pain under continuous control.

Many patients are afraid that pain is a sign that the illness has gotten worse.

New or increased pain can be an indication that disease is present or progressing. However, there are many other reasons for pain. That is why it is important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor or nurse so that they can determine the cause of your pain and treat it.

How is pain measured?

It is every patient’s right to have appropriate pain assessment and pain management. To help control pain, it must be measured. Pain can be measured with numbers, words or symbols. At Roswell Park Cancer Institute, your doctor or nurse will ask you to describe your pain as a number using a 0 to 10 scale:

0 = No pain
1-3 = Mild pain
4-6 = Moderate pain
7-10 = Severe pain

Pain is considered the "Fifth Vital Sign" and asking you if you have pain will be included in routine measurements such as blood pressure and temperature.