Managing pancreatic cancer pain

Many people with pancreatic cancer have pain at some point. There are medicines for pain, and asking for help early on will help you cope with it.

Key facts

  • Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right.
  • There are ways to manage pain.
  • It’s important to tell your doctor or nurse about any pain early on, so it can be more effectively treated.
  • Managing pain may involve your GP, district nurse, hospital doctor or palliative care team.
  • Practical and emotional support can also help – your pain may seem worse at times when you don’t feel supported.
  • Different people feel pain in different ways. This means that how you feel and cope with pain will be very personal to you.
  • The cancer can cause pain. Problems with digestion can also cause pain or discomfort.
  • Some treatments for cancer can cause pain. For example, if you have surgery, you may have some pain or discomfort while your body heals. This should improve.
  • There are different types of pain that people with pancreatic cancer may have. These include nerve pain and soft tissue pain.
  • Some people have more than one type of pain, or different types at different times.
  • There are different types of painkillers used to treat pancreatic cancer pain. These include paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, and opioid painkillers like morphine.
  • There are also other medicines that are usually used to treat other health conditions, but can also be used to relieve pain.
  • You are likely to take more than one type of painkiller to help your pain.
  • Painkillers can cause side effects. Ask your doctor or nurse about any side effects, and tell them if you have any side effects.
  • As well as painkillers, there are other types of pain relief for pancreatic cancer. These can be used with your painkillers, or if your painkillers aren’t working well.
  • A nerve block is a treatment that blocks nerves from sending messages to the brain, and so treats pain.
  • Chemotherapy can help to slow down the growth of the cancer and help with symptoms like pain. Palliative radiotherapy can help with some types of pain.
  • Your emotions, relationships and spiritual beliefs can all affect how you feel and react to pain. You are not alone and there is support available.
  • There are things you can do yourself. For example, distracting yourself from pain with something you enjoy, talking to family and friends, or regular physical activity may help.
  • Some people find that complementary therapies help them feel more in control of their pain. Always speak to your doctor before trying complementary therapies.

What is pain?

Pain is often a sign of damage to your body – it’s your body’s way of telling you that things aren’t right. Many people with pancreatic cancer have pain at some stage. But pain can be managed, so ask for help as early as you can. Read more about treatments for pain.

People sometimes think of pain as something they only feel in their body. But your mind and body work together and influence each other. This means that your emotions, your relationships with people and your spiritual beliefs can all affect how you feel and react to pain. For example, your pain may seem worse at times when you have a lot to cope with, or when you don’t feel you are getting the support you need. You can find out more about coping with pain.

If you get any new pain or your pain gets worse, you may be worried that this means the cancer is growing, but this isn’t always the case. Talk to your doctor or nurse about your worries. They can help you understand what your pain means, and help you deal with it. The sooner your pain is treated, the better the chances of getting it under control.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse


  • Who can help manage my pain?
  • How often will my pain be checked by my medical team?
  • Would it help for me to see a specialist palliative care team?
  • Who should I contact for help at night or at the weekend?

Who can help manage my pain?

The doctors and nurses who can help you manage your pain may include your:

You may also be referred to other services, such as a specialist palliative care team, a supportive care team or a hospice. Seeing these services early on can make it easier to deal with your pain.

Your hospital team should give you an emergency number to contact if your pain suddenly changes and gets very bad at night or at the weekend. If you haven’t been given a number, ask them about it. There will also be a number for the out of hours doctor on your GP’s answer phone message. If you live in England, Wales or Scotland, you can call the NHS on 111 for advice out of hours. In Northern Ireland, there are local out of hours phone numbers for each region, which you can find on the nidirect website.

“ Our palliative care nurse was great and explained what the pain relief drugs were and how long they would take to work.”

What can I do?

  • Talk to your doctor or nurse about any pain you have or any other concerns.
  • Ask who you should contact if your pain gets worse.
  • Find out who to contact if you need to talk to someone at the weekend or at night.
  • If you haven’t already been referred to a specialist palliative care team or supportive care team, speak to your doctor or nurse about whether this would help.

Speak to our specialist nurses

You can also speak to our nurses on our free Support Line with any questions or worries you may have about your pain.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse, Lisa, talks on the phone to offer support.

Read our booklet about pain

To read more about pain, download our booklet, Pain and pancreatic cancer. You can also order a physical copy.

You can use our Pain medicines record card to record your pain medicines.

Order our booklet
The front cover of the Pancreatic Cancer UK booklet, Pain and pancreatic cancer.

Updated April 2022

Review date April 2025

 

References and acknowledgements


References

Email us at publications@pancreaticcancer.org.uk for references to the sources of information used to write this information.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following people who reviewed our information on Pain and pancreatic cancer.

  • Achla Damania, GP, Cheshire
  • Agnieszka Jaworska, Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist, Harrow
  • Ollie Minton, Macmillan Consultant in Palliative Medicine, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust
  • Maria Tynan, Macmillan Specialist Dietitian – Community MD Specialist Palliative Care Team, Southern Health and Social Care Trust, Northern Ireland
  • Phil Wilkins, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Colman Hospital, Norwich
  • Sarah Galbraith, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge University Hospital and Peterborough City Hospital
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Information Volunteers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Specialist Nurses