Other types of pancreatic cancer pain relief
As well as painkillers, there are other types of pain relief for people with pancreatic cancer.
Tricyclic anti-depressants or anti-convulsant drugs are usually used to treat depression and epilepsy. They can also be used together with non-opioid or opioid painkillers to control nerve pain. Taking these drugs does not mean that you are depressed or have epilepsy.
A nerve block is a treatment that blocks nerves from sending messages to the brain, and so treats pain.
You may have a nerve block if you have nerve pain or soft tissue pain and you need more pain relief, alongside your opioid painkillers. After having the nerve block, you may be able to reduce your dose of opioid painkillers.
Nerve blocks can work well for some people but they don’t work for everyone. They may be less likely to work if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes near the pancreas.
You may get loose and runny stools (diarrhoea) or low blood pressure for a few days after having a nerve block. Very occasionally, nerve blocks can cause temporary weakness in the legs. In rare cases, this weakness can be permanent.
A less common way of blocking pain signals involves cutting the nerves during surgery. This is called thoracoscopic splanchnicectomy.
Speak to your medical team about whether a nerve block might help if your pain isn’t well controlled.
Questions to ask
- Is a nerve block suitable for me?
- What are the risks and benefits of a nerve block?
- What type of nerve block can I have?
- If I have a nerve block, where and when will I have it?
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy
Radiotherapy can help to control some types of pancreatic cancer pain, for example bone pain.This is called palliative radiotherapy.
Chemotherapy can slow down the growth of pancreatic cancer and may help to relieve your symptoms, including pain.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) involves using a small, battery-powered machine. You place sticky pads on your skin, which give out pulses of small electrical currents. This feels tingly on your skin.
The currents temporarily block nerves from sending pain messages to the brain. They may also stimulate the body to produce its own natural painkillers, called endorphins.
We need more research to show how well TENS machines work for people with cancer pain. But they are easy to use and rarely cause any side effects.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can reduce pain, improve your daily life and help with depression. It works by teaching you how to change the way you think or act when you feel pain, which can help you cope with it. For example, you can learn how to replace negative thoughts with planned phrases like, ‘I have pain now but it will get better soon’.
Your GP can give you details of NHS and private CBT therapists.
Regular physical activity, such as going for a short walk, may help improve your mood and how you feel. It may also help you cope better with your pain, but we need more research to show that it helps people with pancreatic cancer pain. Speak to your medical team before starting any exercise plan.
Some people find that complementary therapies help them deal with pain. Complementary therapies work alongside your medical treatments. Don’t stop any cancer treatments without speaking to your doctor first.
Complementary therapies don’t work for everyone, and there isn’t much evidence to show that they work. But they may help you feel in control of your pain, which may mean you feel less pain.
Published October 2016
To be reviewed October 2018