A Patient's Guide for the Head and Neck Cancer Program

Pain Management for Head and Neck Cancer

Managing pain is an important part of your treatment and recovery from head and neck surgery. Because head and neck conditions often involve nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons, anything that affects one of these may affect others.

Pain can cause sleeplessness, depression and limitations on your ability to move — all of which can slow down your recovery.

It is important to manage your pain before it becomes too intense. Be sure to tell your doctor when you have pain and discuss ways to deal the pain. The sooner you treat pain, the less likely it is to get worse or cause other complications.

Call your doctor if:

  • You are feeling down or blue, or have lost your pleasure in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy
  • You can't sleep because of pain

Drug Therapies for Head and Neck Cancer

A number of prescription and over-the-counter drugs help relieve the pain, swelling and other symptoms that come with head and neck cancers.

Managing pain is important for your recovery. Severe pain or pain that doesn't go away can lead to depression, difficulty sleeping, limitations on your ability to move around and force changes to your daily activities. All of these can slow down your healing.

You should always consult with your doctor about how best to deal with your pain. Be careful about taking drugs you haven't had before. Be sure to tell your doctor about all drugs that you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines. Also be sure to take any drugs your doctor prescribes the way that he or she tells you and for as long as you are asked to take them.

Avoid using alcohol to relax or relieve pain. While it may relax muscles, it is not a pain reliever. Many doctors believe alcohol may cause more problems than it solves. Alcohol is a major depressant and can be habit-forming. In addition, it can have serious side effects with pain-relieving drugs. Alcohol is also fattening and tends to slow your recovery.

The information provided here about each category of drugs is general in nature. It does not cover all the possible drugs that could be given for pain, nor does it describe all the possible uses, side effects, interactions with other drugs or vitamins and herbal supplements. Please talk to your doctor or pharmacist for full information about the drugs that are prescribed. This information should not be used as medical advice for individual health problems.

If your doctor thinks that a drug therapy program can benefit you, he or she will develop a program that is specific to your condition, age, general health and other drugs you may be taking. Drugs should be taken as prescribed. Tell your doctor all drugs and supplements are taking and any side effects you may have.

Below is an overview of the main categories of drugs that may be recommended for pain management:

  • Anti-depressants
  • Muscle relaxants

Using Anti-Depressants for Pain Relief

Chronic pain can be depressing. It hurts. It may force changes in daily activities.

As a result, you may feel hopeless and depressed. The pain may prevent you from going to physical therapy sessions. This, in turn, can set off a vicious cycle of a slower recovery, more depression, less mobility, more pain, more depression, and so on.

Antidepressants can benefit a person by providing:

  • Better sleep
  • Pain relief. Anti-depressants, particularly the tricyclic type, can help reduce chronic pain.
  • Depression relief. Nearly one out of every five people who has chronic pain also has depression.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac®, Paxil®, Zoloft® and zyban (an antidepressant that is prescribed for helping people to quit smoking and sold as Wellbutrin®). This is a class of anti-depressants that works by increasing the amount of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the gaps between nerves.

These drugs have relatively few side effects. They do, however, interact in a life-threatening way with another type of drug, monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Brand name examples include Nardil®, Parnate® and Marplan®.

Teenagers who are prescribed anti-depressants should be monitored closely. Anti-depressants can sometimes increase teens' depression and thoughts about harming themselves.

Services for Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Having someone whom you care about in the hospital can be stressful. What follows is a quick directory highlighting nearby services that can make your visit to Cedars-Sinai more convenient and easier.

A full menu of hospitality, medical, spiritual and practical information is available on this website in the Patients and Visitors section.

Links to specific information and services are available below:

  • Dining in the Medical Center or in the neighboring area - includes a list of restaurants on-campus, in-hospital dining and near the medical center. Please contact Hospitality at 310-423-4444 for more information.
  • Helping Hand Gift Shop is located on the Plaza Level of the medical center adjaent to the information desk. The gift shop offers free hospital room delivery during certain hours. Call 310-423-5241 for more information.
  • Hotel directory - This list of nearby hotels includes many that offer special rates (subject to change) for Cedars-Sinai patients and visitors. Please be sure to mention Cedars-Sinai when making your reservations.
  • Spiritual Care Services -The chapel is open to persons of all faiths 24 hours a day. It is located on the Plaza Level of the medical center, near the main information desk. Spiritual support for both patients and their loved ones are also available.

Have Questions or Need Help?

Call us or send a message to the Head and Neck Cancer team. You can also have us call you back at your convenience.

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