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Many people assume that drugs or other treatments are the only way to control cancer pain. In fact, they are only one part of treatment.
Sometimes the simplest ways of making you feel better are overlooked. There are a lot of things, on their own or together with medical treatment, that you and other people can do to make you feel better.
The way you sit or lie down can affect your pain. What may feel comfortable at first may be painful 15 or 20 minutes later. Family or friends can help you change position as often as you need. This will also reduce the risk of your skin becoming sore as a result of sitting or lying still in one position for long periods.
Bedding may need to be tidied or changed, too. You may feel a lot better when you get back into a cool bed with fresh bed linen. V-shaped pillows or supports can help reduce backache and neckache, and a bed cradle can keep the weight of blankets off weak limbs.
Your district nurse may be able to provide you with a special mattress and cushions. Other people from your care team, such as a physiotherapist or occupational therapist, can provide special equipment to help with movement and sitting.
Heat pads and warm baths can relax muscles, reduce joint stiffness and help relieve aches and pains. Ice packs can help relieve pain where there is inflammation and swelling. Some people find that alternating heat with cold is more helpful for controlling their pain.
Care should always be taken to protect the skin from burns when using heat pads and ice packs. Heat pads should be used with a fleece cover, and ice packs should be wrapped in a towel before placing them near the skin. Heat shouldn’t be used on body areas that are already inflamed or swollen, as it can make the swelling worse.
Gentle massage can help relieve aching backs or limbs. By rubbing the painful area, you will help reduce the number of painful messages reaching the brain, and you will also help the muscles relax. Unscented oils and lotions can also help keep your skin soft and supple.
Massage and the use of oils and lotions should be avoided in areas that are either being treated with radiotherapy or have recently been treated. You may also need to be careful if you have cancer in the bones, as even gentle rubbing on those areas may make the pain worse. If the number of platelets in your blood is low, you will be more likely to bruise. In this case, you may be advised not to have some types of massage until the number of platelets in your blood has increased.
Watching TV, reading, playing computer games, listening to music or chatting to a friend will not make your pain go away, but it can help distract you, at least for a time. Sitting in a chair or lying in bed with nothing to do can become depressing, and even short periods of entertainment can help you feel better and help you cope better with your pain. Short, regular visits from friends and relatives are probably better than longer ones. They are less tiring, help break up the day and are something to look forward to.
You may be anxious about your treatment or worried about coping at home. You may have financial problems|. Often, friends or relatives can help by getting more information from doctors and nurses or by finding out about services that can help. Sometimes there is little that they can say or do, but just being there to listen and understand can be enough.
If you're not sure where to turn for more information or would like to know more about services that can help, you could call our cancer support specialists|. They will be able to listen to you and can help point you to the services that can help.
Content last reviewed: 1 April 2011
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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