Public Release:  Many cancer patients receive insufficient pain management therapy

American Society for Radiation Oncology

Pain is one of the most common symptoms of cancer patients, yet many of them do not receive adequate therapy for the pain caused by their disease or treatments, according to a study in the September 1 issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, the official journal of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

For cancer patients, pain can come from the cancer itself, chronic inflammatory changes or infections. Standard cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can also cause pain, but despite its common occurrence, pain is a frequent source of patient anxiety due to improper management.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Radiation Oncology in Philadelphia and the Radiation Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., sought to determine the main reasons that patients fail to receive optimal pain therapy.

Between November 2005 and April 2006, 106 radiation therapy patients responded to an Internet-based questionnaire that evaluated their medication use, pain control and attitudes toward pain medication, including prescription and over-the-counter pain medications. Fifty-eight percent reported pain from their cancer treatment and 46 percent of patients reported pain directly from their cancer, yet 80 percent of those patients said that they did not use medication to manage their pain.

Most patients said the main reason they did not take pain medication was because their healthcare provider did not recommend it. This reason was followed by a fear of addiction or dependence and the inability to pay. Some patients also reported using alternative therapies for pain relief, including physical therapy, massage and acupuncture.

"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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ASTRO is the largest radiation oncology society in the world, with more than 9,000 members who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, biology and physics, the Society is dedicated to improving patient care through education, clinical practice, advancement of science and advocacy.

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