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Talking about pancreatic cancer pain

It’s important that you speak to your doctor or nurse as early as you can about any pain you have. Tell your doctor, nurse or GP about any new pain or any pain that has got worse as soon as you can. Don’t try to cope with it yourself. The earlier you get treatment for pancreatic cancer pain, the better the chance of getting it under control.

“Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Doctors and medical professionals understand the difficulty and will do everything they can to provide support.” 

Describing pain

Only you know how your pain feels and how it affects your life. You may find it hard to describe your pain but there are some tools that can help, such as pain scales and pain diaries.

Your doctor or nurse will look at what is causing your pain, what type of pain you have, how bad it is and how it is affecting you. This will help them find the best treatment for you. They will ask you about your pain and will examine you.

They may ask you how the pain is affecting the following things.

  • Your body – where is the pain, does it spread to other parts of your body, what brings it on or helps to improve it, and how does it feel?
  • Your daily life – does it get in the way of everyday activities, like eating, resting and sleeping?
  • Your feelings – how does it affect your mood and how you feel?
  • Your relationships – how does it affect your relationships with your family and friends?
  • Your sex life – how does it affect the way you feel about your body and your relationship with your partner, if you have one?
  • Your spiritual feelings – how do you feel about yourself, your beliefs and your future?

Pain scales

Pain scales help you describe how bad your pain is. Your doctor or nurse may ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means no pain and 10 means the worst pain you can imagine. They may also ask you if your pain is mild, moderate or severe (very bad).

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions – only you know how bad your pain is. Tell your medical team if you have any pain, even if the pain feels better than it was before. This will help you and your medical team keep track of changes in your pain and how well your treatment is working.

Pain diaries

Keeping a diary can help you remember details of your pain and help you describe it to your medical team.

Try thinking about the following questions when you are writing about your pain.

  • Where is the pain?
  • Do you have pain in more than one area?
  • How bad is the pain on a scale from 0 to 10?
  • Does the pain spread to other parts of your body?
  • When do you get pain?
  • How long does the pain last?
  • Does anything make the pain better or worse?
  • Is the pain worse at a certain time of day or in the night?
  • What do you think is causing the pain?
  • What pain relief have you had?
  • Has the pain relief helped with the pain, partly helped or not helped at all?
  • Have you had any side effects from the pain relief?
  • How do you feel about your pain and the pain relief you have had?

Take your diary to your appointments and show it to your doctor or nurse. You should talk to your medical team regularly about your pain. This will help to make sure your pain is managed as well as possible and that you are getting the support you need.

Your doctor or nurse may give you a pain diary to fill in, or you can get one from Macmillan Cancer Support’s website. There are also some mobile phone apps that help you record your pain. If you think this would be helpful, ask your doctor or nurse if they know of any good apps. You can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line if you have any questions about how to talk about your pain.

''You have to trust the professionals and ask for advice – that is their job so encourage the person to speak up about any aches and pains, and describe all symptoms.’’

''As a carer, you notice changes in the person you’re caring for, and can speak to the professionals on their behalf.’’

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

  • How often will be my pain be checked by my medical team?
  • I’m worried that my pain is getting worse. What does this mean?
  • Do you have a pain diary I can use?
  • Can you recommend any mobile phone apps for keeping a record of pain?


More information on pain and pancreatic cancer

Who can help you to deal with pain?

What causes pancreatic cancer pain?

Types of pancreatic cancer pain

Painkillers for pancreatic cancer

Nerve blocks 

Other types of pain relief

Things you can do yourself to deal with pain

Updated February 2019

To be reviewed February 2021

Information Standard