Managing pain can be a puzzle after breast cancer

September 11, 2017

(HealthDay)—Breast cancer patients who take opioid painkillers are more likely to discontinue an important hormone treatment that helps ensure their survival, researchers report.

Use of such as OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicoprofen (hydrocodone) was "significantly associated" with failure to adhere to the hormone therapy and a higher risk of death, the study found.

"It's not a big secret that the U.S. uses more opioids than any other country in the world," said researcher Rajesh Balkrishnan, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine's department of public health sciences.

"Clearly there has to be better management of opioids in the elderly population," Balkrishnan said in a university news release.

For the study, researchers analyzed follow-through rates for adjuvant endocrine therapy—commonly called hormone treatment—among more than 10,000 women treated for . This treatment is used to prevent the cancer from returning.

The patients' average age was 72. Those who were younger, single, suffered from depression or had more advanced disease were more likely to take prescription opioids, the investigators found.

Painkillers were more often prescribed for women who had chemotherapy and than those receiving radiation therapy. The researchers speculated that newer, less painful targeted radiation therapy could help explain this finding.

The study doesn't show a causal relationship, however, and use itself may not be the reason patients don't follow through with their hormonal therapy, the researchers noted. The hormonal treatment, which is taken for up to 10 years, is associated with many unpleasant side effects, causing many women to discontinue the .

"The main problem is that these hormonal medications have so many side effects that women do not want to take them," said researcher Dr. Leslie Blackhall, a pain management expert at UVA Health System.

"They can cause really severe joint and muscle pain in a significant number of women. These women switch from one agent to the other but still can't tolerate them. They are then given opioids for the pain, which may or may not help," Blackhall explained.

More research is needed to determine if opioid use itself increases death rates among . Up to 60 percent of these patients suffer from chronic pain related to treatment, and many need powerful painkillers. However, because they are highly addictive, there is mounting pressure on doctors to limit opioid prescriptions, the study authors noted.

"A lot of doctors feel worried about prescribing them," Blackhall said.

The researchers said their findings could prompt more research and discussion on pain management among .

The study results were published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

Explore further: Breast cancer patients on opioids less likely to stick to vital treatment

More information: The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse provides more on opioids.

Related Stories

Breast cancer patients on opioids less likely to stick to vital treatment

September 1, 2017
A new study has found a troubling lack of adherence to a potentially lifesaving treatment regimen among breast cancer patients who take opioids to manage their pain.

When is an opioid safe to take?

June 26, 2017
(HealthDay)—Many people in pain are apprehensive about taking an opioid painkiller to ease their suffering, and rightfully so.

Doctors play key role keeping women breast cancer-free longer

July 27, 2017
Researchers from The University of Western Australia believe General Practitioners can play an important role in ensuring women persist with cancer treatment.

Day-supply of opioid Rx factor in likelihood of long-term use

August 24, 2017
(HealthDay)—The days supplied is far more important than the dosage level or even the type of pain being treated in risk of opioid use disorder following opioid prescription, according to a study published recently in The ...

Opioid dependence can start in just a few days

March 16, 2017
(HealthDay)—Doctors who limit the supply of opioids they prescribe to three days or less may help patients avoid the dangers of dependence and addiction, a new study suggests.

Worse pain outcomes after knee replacement for patients who took opioids before surgery

May 18, 2017
Six months after knee replacement surgery, pain outcomes were not as good for patients who previously took prescription opioids, according to a study in the May 17 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.

Recommended for you

Lung cancer triggers pulmonary hypertension

November 17, 2017
Shortness of breath and respiratory distress often increase the suffering of advanced-stage lung cancer patients. These symptoms can be triggered by pulmonary hypertension, as scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Heart ...

Researchers discover an Achilles heel in a lethal leukemia

November 16, 2017
Researchers have discovered how a linkage between two proteins in acute myeloid leukemia enables cancer cells to resist chemotherapy and showed that disrupting the linkage could render the cells vulnerable to treatment. St. ...

Computer program finds new uses for old drugs

November 16, 2017
Researchers at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have developed a computer program to find new indications for old drugs. The computer program, called DrugPredict, ...

Pharmacoscopy improves therapy for relapsed blood cancer in a first clinical trial

November 16, 2017
Researchers at CeMM and the Medical University of Vienna presented a preliminary report in The Lancet Hematology on the clinical impact of an integrated ex vivo approach called pharmacoscopy. The procedures measure single-cell ...

Wider sampling of tumor tissues may guide drug choice, improve outcomes

November 15, 2017
A new study focused on describing genetic variations within a primary tumor, differences between the primary and a metastatic branch of that tumor, and additional diversity found in tumor DNA in the blood stream could help ...

A new strategy for prevention of liver cancer development

November 14, 2017
Primary liver cancer is now the second leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide, and its incidences and mortality are increasing rapidly in the United Stated. In late stages of the malignancy, there are no effective ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.