There are many different types of pain medications. Your health care team will work with you to figure out the best medicines for you. You may need to try a few different medications to find the right one.
Each person is different. The amount (dose) of medication you need to take might be different than someone else in your situation. It is important that you take the dose your health care team has prescribed.
Tell your health care team if you cannot afford to pay for your medications. There are benefits that can help.
Non-opioids are used to control mild to moderate pain. Examples of non-opioids:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol®)
- Ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®)
- Naproxen (Aleve®)
Non-opioids do not need a prescription but may be covered if you get a prescription for them.
Talk to your health care team before taking a non-opioid. Some of these medications might interact with other medications or treatments you are taking.
Some non-opioids can cause side effects, such as:
- Upset stomach
- Kidney damage
- Problems with blood clotting
Opioids are used to control moderate to severe pain. Examples of opioids:
There are two types of opioids:
- Short-acting: relieve pain quickly and only last for a short time.
- Long-acting: take longer to relieve pain but lasts for a longer time.
These two types are usually used together.
Opioids will work as long as they are needed. If your pain gets worse for any reason, we can give you a higher dose.
You should not worry about becoming addicted to opioids. Addiction is very rare when opioids are taken correctly to control cancer pain.
Most patients taking opioids will get constipation (when you do not have a bowel movement – go “poop” – as often as is normal for you). You cannot treat this type of constipation by changing what you eat or drink, eating more fiber, or exercising.
It is important that you take a laxative every day. If your dose of opioid goes up, your laxative dose may also have to go up.
Read the BC Cancer handout “How to treat constipation caused by your opioid pain medications”. Talk to your health care team about managing constipation.
Other Side Effects
Many patients taking opioids will feel a little sleepy and/or nauseated (feeling queasy, like you might throw up) after starting an opioid pain medicine. These side-effects should go away after a few days.
If you still feel sleepy or nauseated after three days, talk to your health care team. Your dose may need to be changed.
Nerve pain is different than other pain. It is described as shooting, stabbing or pins and needles. We often treat nerve pain with medications that were originally made to treat something else.
Anti-depressants are used to treat depression. Some types of anti-depressants are also good for treating nerve pain.
Anti-depressants include nortriptyline, imipramine, and desipramine. Using these medications for pain does not mean anyone thinks you are depressed.
Medications used to treat seizures can sometimes also help nerve pain. An example of this type of drug is gabapentin.
Medical cannabis has been shown to help relieve some kinds of pain, but does not work for everyone. Also, it is quite complicated. There are many kinds of medical cannabis and buying some safe and tested product legally is quite difficult. It is important to do it right if you are thinking of trying cannabis.
More medical cannabis information is on the BC Cancer website.
Talk to your health care team before taking medical cannabis.