A “Global Pandemic of Untreated Cancer Pain”

Cancer pain management key in treating millions worldwide

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Many countries have strict policies on opioids for the safety of the public. But when it comes to managing cancer pain, these regulations do harm—not good.

In a recent study, researchers have identified unnecessary prescription opioid restrictions in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East as barriers to proper pain care for cancer patients.

As a result, people in these countries aren’t receiving basic, fundamental cancer treatment and care, the author says. Some go so far as to call it a “global pandemic of untreated cancer pain.”

"Talk to your doctor about pain management issues."

The study looked at opioid prescription policies effecting cancer patients in multiple countries to see if they were receiving proper pain management.

Managing cancer pain is a vital part of the treatment process.

Nathan Cherny, MD, professor at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel and Chair of the European Society for Medical Oncology’s Palliative Care Working Group, was the lead author of this study.

Dr. Cherny said, “[M]ost patients don’t have access to the essential [cancer] pain-relieving medication.”

Data for this study was collected between 2010-2012 from 76 countries, and included 156 reports submitted by experts in the fields of cancer and pain management.

The International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care recommends the use of seven different opioids to manage cancer pain. These include oral morphine, codeine, oxycodone and fentanyl patches.

The research team has pinpointed the specific realities and practices of improperly medicating cancer pain in multiple regions. Their data includes procedures, costs, logistics and regulatory barriers.

Researchers found that in many countries only three out of the seven commonly used pain medications are available.

Barriers to obtaining opioid prescriptions included, but were not limited to: time limits on length of prescriptions, limits on pain medication for cancer patients specifically, limits on pharmacies' ability to dispense medication, lack of government subsidies to cover cost and limits put on prescribers for opioids. 

Dr. Cherny said, “The first presentation of this data at ESMO 2012 is only the beginning of an organized and coordinated effort to take on one of the major global public health challenges of our time—the effective relief of cancer pain for all cancer patients, wherever they may be.”

Dr. Carla Ripamonti, from the National Cancer Institute in Milan, Italy, relayed concerns about high pain levels influencing cancer treatments and negatively effecting progress.

This study acts as a call to action for taking a close look at drug control policies in the aforementioned countries and change policies that keep cancer patients from getting the pain medication they need, which authors call a “fundamental aspect of cancer care.”

This study was presented at the Congress of the European Society for Medical Oncology in Vienna, Austria, from September 28-October 2, 2012. All research is considered preliminary until it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

No funding information was given and no conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 11, 2012
Last Updated:
October 14, 2012