Calcitonin for Cancer Pain
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How It Works
Calcitonin is a hormone that is used to decrease bone destruction caused by cancer that has spread (metastatic cancer). It also has some direct pain-relieving actions. It is given as a shot or as a nasal spray.
How Well It Works
Calcitonin may help relieve some types of nerve pain, including phantom pain.1 Phantom pain is a feeling of pain or other uncomfortable sensations in body parts that are no longer there, such as after an amputation. Although the limb is gone, the nerve endings at the site of the amputation continue to send pain signals to the brain that make the brain think the limb is still there. Women who have had a breast removed because of breast cancer may also feel phantom pain.
Calcitonin has also been used to help relieve bone pain caused by metastatic cancer. Some people may get relief. But the research done so far does not prove that calcitonin works for bone pain.2 The benefits of calcitonin may take many weeks to notice, and they often go away soon after the medicine is stopped.
Side effects of calcitonin are not common but can include:
- Redness, tenderness, swelling, or warmth at the injection site.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Decreased appetite.
- Stomach pain.
- Unusual taste sensation, such as a salty or metallic taste.
- Increased urination.
- Flushing of the face, ears, hands, or feet.
- Tingling or tenderness of palms of hands or soles of feet.
- Nasal congestion.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
The benefits of calcitonin usually go away soon after you stop taking it.
Women who use this medicine during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you and your doctor must weigh the risks of using this medicine against the risks of not treating your condition.
Injections of calcitonin must be taken daily or at least several times a week. You or a family member usually will learn how to give the shot properly. It is important not to give the shot in the same place twice in a row, because this could damage your muscle tissue.
Calcitonin as a nasal spray must be used several times a week.
- Foley KM, Abernathy A (2008). Management of cancer pain. In VT DeVita Jr et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology, 8th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2757–2790. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- National Cancer Institute (2011). Pain PDQ—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/pain/HealthProfessional.
Last Revised: October 28, 2011
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