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Heat and Cold Treatment for Cancer Pain

Heat and cold treatments can help with mild to moderate pain from cancer. But talk to your doctor before trying either of these during chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

Heat may relieve sore muscles. Use a heating pad, a gel pack, or a hot-water bottle. Or you can take a hot bath or shower. Apply heat for no longer than 10 minutes at a time. To avoid burning your skin, do not apply anything that is uncomfortably warm.

Cold may ease pain by numbing pain sensations. Use a gel pack that stays soft even when frozen, or a bag of frozen peas, or ice cubes wrapped in a towel. Apply for no longer than 10 minutes at a time. And don't keep a cold pack on for so long that you are shivering or that the cold causes more pain.

When using heat or cold treatment:

  • Don't apply heat or cold to skin that may be red or tender from radiation treatment.
  • Don't apply heat to an area where the skin is broken or injured, because heat can increase bleeding.
  • Don't apply heat or cold packs directly to bare skin. Put a thin towel or pillowcase between the pack and your skin.
  • Don't use heat or cold in an area where you have poor circulation.
  • Try alternating heat and cold.

After a heat or cold treatment, try some gentle massage for relaxation and pain relief.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Michael Seth Rabin, MD - Medical Oncology
Last Revised October 28, 2011

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