Frequently Asked Questions – Drug Pumps

Does more pain mean my cancer has gotten worse?

Not necessarily. You will need to discuss this with your doctor. Regardless of the state of your cancer, the right treatment for cancer pain relief may improve daily life for you.

What is a drug pump?

A drug pump (intrathecal drug delivery system) is designed to manage pain by delivering pain medication to the intrathecal space that surrounds the spinal cord. Because this treatment delivers pain medication directly to the receptors in the spinal cord, smaller doses of medication are required to gain relief from chronic pain.1-5

How does a drug pump work?

The spinal cord is like a highway for pain signals going to the brain. Because the pump sends medication directly to the area around the spinal cord, it interrupts pain signals before they reach the brain. Results may vary depending upon the individual.

Is a drug pump right for me?

Talk to your doctor to determine what kinds of pain treatments may work for you. The choice of treatment depends on the type of pain, how severe it is, and how you respond to your pain treatment. If your doctor thinks you are a candidate for a drug pump, you can complete a screening test so that you can experience the therapy to see if you are a candidate.

Are pumps new?

No. Drug pumps have been used in Australia since 1992 and are implanted worldwide.

Will drug delivery treatment completely eliminate my pain?

Drug delivery treatment does not eliminate the source of the pain, so the amount of pain relief varies from person to person. 

Isn't it easy to become addicted to pain medication?

This is a common misperception. In fact, medical research shows the chance of an individual with cancer pain becoming addicted to pain relieving drugs is extremely small.6

Will a drug pump eliminate other sources of pain?

Your pump will not provide relief from other types of pain such as headaches, stomachaches, fractures, etc.

What is the surgery like?

The surgery to implant the system takes approximately 1 to 3 hours. The length of your hospital stay will be determined by your doctor. Typically, the surgery is performed under general anaesthesia.


  1. Onofrio BM, Yaksh TL. Long-Term Pain Relief Produced by Intrathecal Infusion in 53 Patients. J Neurosurg 1990; 72: 200-209.
  2. Winkelmuller M, Winkelmuller W. Long-Term Effects of Continuous Intrathecal Opioid Treatment in Chronic Pain of Nonmalignant Etiology. J Neurosurg 1996; 85: 458-467.
  3. Paice JA, Penn RD, Shott S. Intraspinal Morphine for Chronic Pain: A Retrospective, Multicenter Study. J Pain Symptom Manage 1996; 11(2): 71-80.
  4. Lamer TJ. Treatment of Cancer-Related Pain: When Orally Administered Medications Fail. Mayo Clin Proc 1994; 69:473-480.
  5. Portenoy RK. Management of Common Opioid Side Effects During Long-Term Therapy of Cancer Pain. Ann Acad Med 1994; 23:160-170.
  6. Smith TJ, Staats PS, Deer T, Randomized Clinical Trial of an Implantable Drug Delivery System Compared with Comprehensive Medical Management for Refractory Cancer Pain: Impact on Pain, Drug-Related Toxicity and Survival. J Clin Oncol. 2002;20:4040-4049.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 27 Sep 2010

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