Cancer pain and analgesia

Paul J. Christo, Danesh Mazloomdoost

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

106 Scopus citations


Pain ranges in prevalence from 14-100% among cancer patients and occurs in 50-70% of those in active treatment. Cancer pain may result from direct invasion of tumor into nerves, bones, soft tissue, ligaments, and fascia, and may induce visceral pain through distension and obstruction. Cancer pain is multifaceted. Clinicians may describe cancer pain as acute, chronic, nociceptive (somatic), visceral, or neuropathic. Despite implementation of the WHO guidelines, reports of undertreatment of cancer pain persist in various clinical settings and in spite of decades of work to reduce unnecessary discomfort. Substantial obstacles to adequate pain relief with opioids include specific concerns of patients themselves, their family members, physicians, nurses, and the healthcare system. The WHO analgesic ladder serves as the mainstay of treatment for the relief of cancer pain in concert with tumoricidal, surgical, interventional, radiotherapeutic, psychological, and rehabilitative modalities. This multidimensional approach offers the greatest potential for maximizing analgesia and minimizing adverse effects. Primary therapies are directed at the source of the cancer pain and may enhance a patient's function, longevity, and comfort. Adjuvant therapies include nonopioids that confer analgesic effects in certain medical conditions but primarily treat conditions that do not involve pain. Nonopioid medications (over-the-counter agents) are useful in the management of mild to moderate pain, and their continuation through step 3 of the WHO ladder is an option after weighing a drug's risks and benefits in individual patients. Symptomatic treatment of severe cancer pain should begin with an opioid, regardless of the mechanism of the pain. They are very effective analgesics, titrate easily, and offer a favorable risk/benefit ratio. Cancer pain remains inadequately controlled despite the diagnostic and therapeutic means of ensuring that patients feel comfortable during their illness. Therefore, all practitioners need to make control of cancer pain a professional duty, even if they can only use the most basic and least expensive analgesic medications, such as morphine, codeine, and acetaminophen, to reduce human suffering.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRecent Advances in Clinical Oncology
PublisherBlackwell Publishing Inc.
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9781573317009
StatePublished - Sep 2008

Publication series

NameAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
ISSN (Print)0077-8923
ISSN (Electronic)1749-6632


  • Addiction
  • Adjuvant therapies
  • Analgesia
  • Barriers to pain relief
  • Cancer
  • Cancer pain
  • Co-analgesics
  • Malignancy
  • Nonopioid therapies
  • Opioids
  • Pain
  • Therapies
  • WHO 3-step analgesic ladder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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