Any therapeutic strategy developed for patients experiencing cancer pain depends on the goals of care, which can be broadly categorized as prolonging survival, optimizing comfort, and optimizing function. The relative priority of these goals for any individual should direct therapeutic decision-making.
By combining primary treatments, systemic analgesic agents, and other techniques, most cancer patients can achieve satisfactory relief of pain. In cases where pain appears refractory to these interventions, invasive anesthetic or neurosurgical maneuvers may be necessary, and sedation may be offered to those with unrelieved pain at the end of life.
The principles of analgesic therapy are presented, as well as the practical issues involved in drug administration, ranging from calculating dosage to adverse effects, and, when necessary, how to switch and/or combine therapies. Adjuvant analgesics, which are drugs indicated for purposes other than relief of pain but which may have analgesic effects, are also listed and discussed in some detail.
Surgical and neurodestructive techniques, such as rhizotomy or cordotomy, although not frequently required or performed, represent yet other options for patients with unremitting pain and diminished hope of relief.
Although cancer pain can be a complex medical problem arising from multiple sources, patients should be assured that suffering is not inevitable and that relief is attainable.