Use of Pain Medications in Cancer Patients Surprisingly Low

By Stanton R. Mehr
Published: Monday, May 24, 2010
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More than half of patients undergoing radiation therapy to manage malignant tumors report experiencing significant pain. Despite this, relatively few use pain relief medication, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Researchers asked 106 patients who had received radiotherapy to treat solid tumors of various types to complete an online survey. Slightly less than half (46%) reported that they experienced pain related to their cancer, and more than half (58%) indicated that their radiation treatment caused pain.

Surprisingly, nearly 80% of survey respondents said that they did not use pain medications. The most common reason given was that their clinician had neither recommended nor prescribed pain medication.

The study found that patients with lower levels of education were more likely to take analgesic medication compared with patients who had at least some college (36% vs 11%, respectively). Patients who identified themselves as white were about half as likely as patients of other races to use pain medications (16% vs 32%, respectively). In addition, more men than women used medications to relieve their pain (29% vs 17%, respectively). The authors believe that this underutilization results from healthcare professionals failing to evaluate pain levels in their patients sufficiently.


Simone CB II, Vapiwala N, Hampshire MK, et al. Internet-based survey evaluating use of pain medications and attitudes of radiation oncology patients toward pain intervention. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2008;72(1):127-133


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