Palliative Radiation for Cancer Pain Management

Cancer Treat Res. 2021;182:145-156. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-81526-4_10.


Bone metastases are the most common cause of cancer-related pain. Radiation therapy (RT) is a very common and effective treatment to relieve pain. Conventionally fractionated RT typically consists of the following regimens: 8 Gy in a single treatment, 20 Gy in five fractions, 24 Gy in six fractions, or 30 Gy in ten fractions. All treatment regimens have similar rates of pain relief (range 50-80%), with single-fraction treatment often requiring retreatment. While many painful bony metastases can be managed with RT alone, some may be more complex, often requiring multidisciplinary management, including the need for surgical stabilization or augmentation prior to RT. There are multiple assessment tools including the neurologic, oncologic, mechanical, and systemic (NOMS) decision framework, which allows clinicians to assess the proper course of treatment for these patients. For patients with good prognosis, oligometastatic disease, or those presenting with more radioresistant tumors, stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) may be another option, which offers ablative doses of radiation delivered over several treatments. This chapter reviews the fundamentals of RT for palliation.

MeSH terms

  • Bone Neoplasms* / complications
  • Bone Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Dose Fractionation, Radiation
  • Humans
  • Pain
  • Pain Management
  • Palliative Care
  • Radiosurgery*