Treatments such as pain relief medications and radiotherapy may help to manage bone cancer pain. They work by reducing inflammation and helping to stabilize weakened bones.

Bone cancer pain can occur due to a tumor pressing on surrounding structures, nerve compression, and inflammation. A tumor can also cause destruction of the bone, which weakens it and can cause pain.

This article looks at medical and home treatments for bone cancer pain.

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According to a 2018 review, radiotherapy is the most effective treatment for relieving pain in people with cancer.

The types of radiotherapy for treating bone cancer pain include:

  • External beam radiotherapy (EBRT): This uses a machine to deliver radiation to specific areas of the body.
  • Hemi-body irradiation (HBI): This delivers radiotherapy to the lower or upper halves of the body.
  • Radiopharmaceuticals: These drugs deliver radiotherapy directly to cancer cells within the body.

Certain medications may help to provide pain relief for bone pain. These include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs are a common treatment for cancer-related pain and can help reduce pain and inflammation. NSAIDs are available by prescription and over the counter. Over-the-counter (OTC) NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Opioids: Opioids are one of the most effective and commonly used medications for managing cancer pain. They can provide long-term pain relief but can have significant side effects.
  • Bisphosphonates: Bisphosphonates can help to reduce the breakdown of bone tissue, lessen bone pain, and decrease the risk of fracture from weak bone structure. Doctors may suggest bisphosphonates for bone pain if other medications and radiation therapy are not effective.
  • Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants may help alter pain perception and mood and reduce depressive symptoms. Certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may help treat nerve pain.
  • Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids may help with bone pain, nerve pain, and inflammation. Over the long term, corticosteroids may have significant side effects. It is important for people to discuss these with their doctor.

In rare cases, doctors may use surgery to treat bone pain. Options for surgery include:

  • Neurodestruction: Neurodestruction disrupts pain signals to the brain to achieve pain relief. However, the procedure is irreversible and may cause side effects.
  • Neuromodulation: Neuromodulation may help to treat neuropathic pain. It works by delivering electrical stimulation to the peripheral nerves or spinal cord.

A person may wish to try alternative treatments for bone pain. Some of these include:

  • Electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): This involves attaching small pads onto the skin that administer a small electrical charge. This can help to relieve pain located in one area of the body.
  • Acupuncture: This involves inserting fine needles into the body. Acupuncture may help to reduce bone cancer pain by releasing pain-relieving chemicals or relieving muscle spasms.
  • Hot or cold packs: A person can try warm washcloths, heating pads, or a warm bath. Warmth may help to ease aching joints or stiff muscles. If warm compresses do not work, they can try a cool compress. This can help to reduce inflammation and pain.

Cancer Research UK suggests that the following may also help to relieve bone cancer pain:

Speaking with the cancer care team

The American Cancer Society stresses the importance of speaking with the cancer team about a person’s pain. A person can let their cancer team know:

  • the location of the pain
  • when the pain began
  • how long the pain lasts
  • what the pain feels like
  • what eases or worsens the pain
  • whether prescribed pain medications are working as expected

Pain can affect a person’s quality of life and mental health. A person may find it beneficial to seek support from loved ones or support groups. Speaking with a mental health professional may also help.

Here are answers to questions people frequently ask about relieving pain due to bone cancer.

What is the best medication to treat bone cancer pain?

For mild bone cancer pain, non-opioid pain relief medications are usually the first-line treatment. These include medications such as NSAIDs.

For moderate pain, weak opioids may be the best medication option. These include codeine, tramadol, or dihydrocodeine.

For severe pain, people may need stronger opioids, such as morphine. Other options may include methadone, oxycodone, or hydromorphone. Intravenous morphine can also provide fast relief.

Transdermal fentanyl or buprenorphine patches may help to provide ongoing pain relief. These are patches that people wear on their skin.

What is the best method of pain relief for bone cancer pain?

According to a 2018 review, radiotherapy is the most effective treatment option for cancer-related pain. Research suggests radiotherapy may help people achieve partial or complete bone pain relief in around 50–90% of cases.

Radiotherapy treatment alone is usually very effective for treating bone pain. According to a 2019 article, the response rate is above 85%. Radiotherapy also provides fast relief. Around 50% of people report positive results within the initial two weeks of treatment.

People may be able to manage mild bone cancer pain with non-opioid medication, such as NSAIDs. For moderate to severe pain, opioids may be an effective treatment option.

Radiotherapy is also one of the most effective methods for managing bone cancer pain and providing fast relief.

People may wish to try alternative and complementary therapies for bone cancer pain. These can include massage, hot or cold packs, aromatherapy, and acupuncture.