Painkillers for pancreatic cancer

Find out about the types of painkillers used for pancreatic cancer, and how they are used.

Your doctor or nurse will tell you how and when to take your painkillers, and how long the pain relief should last. They should also explain any possible side effects. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions. For example, you may need to take your painkillers at regular times. Pain can be harder to control if you wait until your pain is bad before taking painkillers.

Tell your doctor or pharmacist about any other medicines you are taking. Medicines can affect each other, causing extra side effects or stopping another drug from working. This includes drugs you can buy at your local pharmacy, like ibuprofen and paracetamol, and some herbal remedies.

Don’t stop taking your painkillers without speaking to your doctor or nurse first. If you are worried about side effects, speak to them before changing anything.

Your doctor and nurse should check your pain regularly. This is to make sure that your painkillers are working properly. Tell them if your pain gets worse. They will look at your painkillers again. They may increase the dose or add different painkillers. If you have bad side effects, you may be offered a different painkiller.

“Take painkillers as soon as you experience any pain. Don’t feel you have to suffer in silence or that it’s better not to take them. Dealing with pain quickly and effectively will improve the quality of your life.”

What can I do?

  • Tell your medical team as soon as you can about any new pain or any pain that has got worse. This will help them manage it as well as possible.
  • Keep a record of things like where the pain is, how bad it is on a scale of 0 to 10, how it affects everyday things like sleeping, and whether anything makes it better or worse.
  • You could use a pain diary or mobile phone app to record your pain. Ask your doctor or nurse if they can recommend anything.
  • If you are taking lots of medicines, you could use our Pain Medicines Record Card, or a pill box, to help you remember when to take them. Ask your nurse for any other tips.

Non-opioid painkillers

Find out about non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and paracetamol.

NSAIDs and paracetamol
A man sips on water.

Opioid painkillers

Read about opioid painkillers such as morphine or oxycodone.

Opioid painkillers
Woman using a pill box

Other types of pain relief

There are other types of pain relief for pancreatic cancer, such as drugs that are usually used to treat other health conditions, but can also be used for pain.

Other types of pain relief
A doctor talking with a man and woman

How are painkillers taken?

Different types of painkillers can be taken in different ways.

  • You will normally take them as a tablet, capsule or liquid that you swallow.
  • Some painkillers are also available as granules that you dissolve in water to drink.
  • If you find it hard to swallow or you are being sick, you may be able to have a tablet or film that dissolves in your mouth.
  • You may also be able to have a syringe pump (see below), or have painkillers by injection.
  • Some painkillers, such as fentanyl and buprenorphine, can be given through a patch that is put on your skin.

What is a syringe pump?

A syringe pump (also called a syringe driver) provides a steady flow of painkillers. It is a small battery operated machine which is attached to a needle that is inserted under the skin. A doctor or nurse will set it up for you.

A syringe pump is used if you can’t swallow medicines, are being sick or your bowel can’t absorb the medicines. It’s also used if the drugs you need can only be given by injection.

A syringe pump can also be used to provide other medicines, such as anti-sickness medicine. You can move around while using a syringe pump, and can use it at home or out of the house.

Diagram of a syringe pump

The pump is made up of a rectangular box with 6 buttons including power, start and stop. Below the buttons is a small syringe, like those used for blood tests. The syringe is connected to the upper arm by a long thin tube which ends in a needle, held in place with a patch on the skin.

Keep a record of your pain medicines

Download our pain medicines record card to help you remember when to take your pain relief.

Your doctor or nurse and your local pharmacy can also give you advice about how to remember to take your painkillers.

Download the pain medicines record card
An image of Pancreatic Cancer UK's Pain Medicines Record card.

Updated April 2022

To be reviewed April 2025