Pain treatment in childhood cancer

Pain treatment in childhood cancer

Medicines which relieve pain are called analgesics. If your child is able to take medicine or tablets, this is the way the pain relief will be given. If your child has very strong pain, often the medicine is given intravenously because this method gives a rapid response.

What are the different types of pain medication?

Medicines which relieve pain are called analgesics. They can be:

  • oral (given by mouth)
  • intravenous (injected into a vein)
  • topical (applied to the skin)
  • transdermal (absorbed through the skin)
  • inhalation (breathed in)

Oral analgesia

If your child is able to take medicine or tablets, this is the way the pain relief will be given.

The most common medicine given this way is paracetamol, however even strong pain medicines such as morphine work well when taken by mouth.

Intravenous analgesia

If your child has very strong pain, often the medicine is given intravenously because this method gives a rapid response.

Intravenous pain medication can also be used if it is not possible for your child to take medication orally (by mouth).

Most pain relieving medicines can now be given intravenously, such as paracetamol for mild pain through to opioids such as morphine and fentanyl for strong pain. They may be given as a single dose (called a bolus) or as a continuous infusion over a number of days if required.

For more information see:

Children over five years of age with ongoing pain may be given a PCA. PCA stands for patient controlled analgesia. It is a machine which has a button for the patient to push when they have pain.

For more information, see:

Topical analgesia

There are creams and gels that can be put on to the skin to numb the pain of needling procedures. Commonly used topical analgesics are Emla™ cream and Ametop™ gel.

An hour before the procedure about a teaspoon of the cream or gel will be applied to your child's skin where the needle will go in. It's then covered with a clear plastic dressing. When the needle prick is to happen, the dressing is removed (the child can help do this) and the cream or gel wiped away. It is important to note that the anaesthetic effect will last for a couple of hours after it is wiped off the skin.

Transdermal analgesia

These are small patches which are put on the skin. They take a number of hours before they provide a continuous amount of pain relief over a number of days – usually three to seven. They are usually only used for children where pain is expected to last for a week or more.

Inhalation analgesia

Nitrous oxide is a gas which can be inhaled (breathed in) by patients through a mask or mouthpiece which they hold themselves. It works quickly and gives short-term analgesia (doesn't last long.) It is useful for uncomfortable procedures like dressing changes. Quite often, children over four years of age can understand how to hold the mask and suck on the mouthpiece.

For more information see:

What to do before giving your child medicine for pain at home

  • follow the instructions which were given to you by the doctor or nurse at the hospital when the pain medicine was prescribed for your child
  • if you don't have instructions or you are unsure about the instructions, phone the hospital and speak to the doctor or nurse on the ward. Say you want to check the pain medicine to give, the dose to give and how often to give it

Where to go for information and support

On this website
Childhood cancer: Where to go for more information and support

Acknowledgements

All the fact sheets in the Childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.

This page last reviewed 22 June 2013.
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