Cancer Pain Syndromes
all information

Cancer Pain Syndromes

En Español (Spanish Version)


Approximately one-third of people with cancer have pain. There are different types of cancer pain, all depending on the progression of the disease, its location in the body, and the physical condition of the patient.


Based on the cause of pain, researchers have defined different cancer pain syndromes, including:

  • Pain from the tumor—Tumors can press on bone, nerves, or an organ, resulting in pain.
  • Pain related to cancer therapy—chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery are used to treat cancer.
  • Pain unrelated to the cancer or treatment—This refers to pain (in people with cancer) that has nothing to do with the illness or its treatment (eg, headache, arthritis, muscle strains).



© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Having cancer is a risk factor for cancer pain.


Any type of pain experienced by a cancer patient can be considered cancer pain. The pain may be near or far from the location of the tumor, of varying degrees of intensity, and chronic or intermittent. The pain can be described as pressure, sharp, dull, throbbing, burning, stabbing, and/or achy.


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. He or she may also perform tests to determine possible causes of the pain.

These may include imaging studies such as CT scan and MRI scans to look for structural problems such as bone fractures and lesions which could cause pain.

Other tests such as electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV) may be performed to evaluate for a neuropathy, plexopathy, or radiculopathy which may be causing pain.


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Your plan will depend on the type of pain you are experiencing and how your cancer has been treated. Medications to treat cancer pain include the following:


Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen can be used to treat mild to moderate cancer pain.


Weak opioids (eg, codeine) or strong opioids (eg, morphine) are often used to treat moderate to severe cancer pain.

Other Medications

Antidepressants, anti-epileptics, and steroids may be effective in relieving certain types of cancer pain. These types of medication may be of benefit if the pain is thought to be either neuopathis or “central” (related to the central nervous system).

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy can be used to relieve bone pain, as well as pain caused by tumors compressing other structures.


Usually, cancer pain is difficult to avoid. To manage your pain, the best thing you can do is talk with your doctor about any pain you are experiencing. He or she can help you devise a plan for managing your pain.


American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute


Canadian Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute of Canada


Chronic cancer pain. DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed May 23, 2007.

Pain management. University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center website. Available at: Accessed May 23, 2007.

VT Chang, et al. Update in cancer pain syndromes. Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2006;9(6):1414-1434.

Last reviewed April 2008 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Your Health and Happiness