Although pain is commonly experienced by cancer patients, many receive inadequate pain management. Little data exist quantifying analgesic usage among oncology patients. This study evaluates perceived causes of pain and investigates reasons why oncology patients fail to receive optimal pain management.
An institutional review board-approved questionnaire assessing pain control and analgesic usage was posted on OncoLink. Between November 2005 and July 2008, 1107 patients responded. Respondents were female (73%), white (74%), educated beyond high school (64%), and had surgery (69%), chemotherapy (64%), and radiation (47%). Most had breast (30%), gastrointestinal (12%), gynecologic (11%), and lung (8%) malignancies.
Sixty-seven percent of respondents reported pain, with 48% reporting pain directly from their cancer and 47% reporting pain from their cancer treatment. Among patients in pain, 25% did not use analgesics. Analgesic usage was significantly less in men (44% vs. 52%, P=0.023), minorities (42% vs. 53%, P=0.001), and patients with lower education levels (45% vs. 53%, P=0.013). Usage varied by cancer diagnosis and was higher among patients who received chemotherapy (56% vs. 40%, P<0.001) and radiation (53% vs. 47%, P=0.058). Reasons for not taking analgesics included: health care provider not recommending medications (85%), fearing addiction/dependence (80%), and inability to pay (76%). Many patients reporting pain, not taking analgesics, pursued alternative therapies (94%).
Most cancer patients perceive pain from their disease or treatment, regardless of therapy received. Many, however, did not use analgesics due to concerns of addiction, cost, or lack of health care provider endorsement. Providers should regularly discuss pain symptoms and management with cancer patients.