Management of pain in the cancer patient

Anesth Analg. 1993 Feb;76(2):402-16.


The pain experience of the cancer patient is the result of many factors, including nociceptive sources, specific pain syndromes, and behavioral contributions. Careful evaluation of the patient is necessary to identify the contributors to the patient's pain experience and to select treatment modalities which address the underlying causes. For patients who are experiencing poorly controlled pain as a result of cancer, therapy often includes multiple management strategies involving more than one discipline. Therefore, an interdisciplinary approach may be more useful for pain management. Disciplines and specialties. involved in such care commonly include anesthesiologists, oncologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, physical therapists, pharmacists, nurses, and social workers. The locus of control often influences how patients respond to their physicians' advice. Patients with a strong internal locus of control usually want to participate actively in treatment decisions. Such patients often resent having decisions made about their treatment without their participation. A lack of sense of control can exacerbate such patients' pain and limit compliance with recommended treatments. Drug therapy is the mainstay of cancer pain management. The therapy should be individualized to the patient, and medications should be selected for specific indications. The WHO three-step analgesic ladder should be used as a guide in selecting analgesics. Drugs should be administered by mouth unless it is impossible to do so, and drug costs should be considered when selecting analgesic medications. Doses should be titrated to response. Adjuvant drug therapy should be considered early and implemented when indicated. Practitioners should be familiar with the medications prescribed and be alert for the appearance of adverse side effects. Patients should be monitored and reassessed continuously. A thorough diagnostic work-up should be completed for new symptoms when indicated. For patients with specific pain syndromes, or for whom drug therapy has not been successful, local anesthetic and neurolytic block therapy and more invasive drug delivery systems (e.g., epidural catheters) should be considered. Although cure may not be attainable in many cancer patients, the obligations of health professionals to these patients are no less than to patients for whom a cure is achievable. Effective pain management has a profound impact on the quality of life, and may give the patient the opportunity to face death with dignity and reduced suffering.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement*