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Cancer Patients Receive Insufficient Pain Therapy

Sep 11, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Cancer Patient

Among Cancer Patients, Pain is One of the Most Common Symptoms

Among cancer patients, pain is one of the most common symptoms.  Unfortunately, many cancer patients are not receiving sufficient and appropriate therapy for the pain caused by either or both their cancer or their cancer treatments; this, according to a study appearing in the September 1 issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics.  The publication is the official journal of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

For cancer patients, pain can originate from the cancer itself, but can also originate from chronic inflammatory changes and even infections.  Further, traditional cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, can also cause the patient’s pain.  Clearly, pain is common in cancer patients as part of their disease, as part of their disease’s treatment, and as part of the results of their disease and its treatments; however, despite the frequency of the pain, cancer and cancer-related pain is improperly managed, becoming an ongoing and frequent source of patient anxiety due to its improper management.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Radiation Oncology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Radiation Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, worked to determine the main reasons that patients fail to receive optimal pain therapy.  As part of the study, between November 2005 and April 2006, 106 radiation therapy patients responded to an Internet-based questionnaire that evaluated their medication use; the pain control they experienced; and their attitudes toward pain medication, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs.  Of the respondents, 58 percent reported pain that they experienced directly from their cancer treatment and 46 percent of the patient respondents reported that they experienced pain directly from their cancer.  Of those respondents, 80 percent of the patients reported that they did not use medications to manage their pain.

Majority of the Patients Reporting that they Suffered from Pain as a Result of their Cancer

Sadly, the majority of the patients reporting that they suffered from pain as a result of their cancer or its treatment said that the primary reason they did not take pain medication was because their healthcare provider did not recommend such medications.  Patients also reported that they feared becoming addicted or dependent on pain medication and also reported having an inability to pay for such pain medication.  Some patients also reported using alternative, non medication, therapies for their pain relief, such as physical therapy, massage, and acupuncture, to name a few.

"To eliminate barriers to optimal pain management for cancer patients, healthcare providers should talk with their patients about pain symptoms and pain medications," Charles Simone, M.D., a resident at the National Cancer Institute Radiation Oncology Branch in Bethesda, Md. and lead author of the study, said.  "At our institution we have taken these steps by transitioning to an electronic medical record system that has been designed to require an evaluation and documentation of patient pain levels and pain medication responses by healthcare providers at each patient encounter

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