Q. My pain seems to be increasing. How do I tell my doctor without sounding like a "seeker"?

A.

Fear of becoming addicted or becoming a “seeker” is common among people who are prescribed medications for cancer pain. Unfortunately, this fear can keep some patients from talking with their doctor about the pain they are experiencing. It can also prevent them from following their doctor’s orders about when and how often to take their medications. Some people may even skip some of their doses because they are afraid of “getting hooked.” However, if you feel that your pain is increasing, it is important that you consult with your medical team. Keep in mind that pain is what the person says it is. You are the expert when it comes to your own pain. A simple change in the dosage or frequency of your medication may be all that is necessary to ease your pain.

Although a possibility exists that you may become physically dependent on your medication, which is a normal response to taking a pain medication over a period of time, this nonetheless is not a sign of an addiction. Sometimes our bodies can become used to the medicines that we are taking. This is described as building up a “tolerance” to medications. It means that the pain medications that used to work may no longer be working to help relieve your pain. It’s important to talk with your doctor about any concerns or fears you may have surrounding this. Don’t assume that your doctor is aware of the level of pain you are experiencing. Doctors have to rely on their patients to inform them whether or not the medications are working. Keeping your doctor informed will also help ensure that your pain medications are being used safely and effectively. If you feel that your doctor is not addressing your pain to your satisfaction, you might consider asking him/her for a referral to a pain clinic or pain specialist.