Breakthrough Cancer Pain Still a Serious Problem


More than half of patients recently surveyed about their breakthrough pain from cancer said that their pain is an eight, nine or 10 on a 10-point scale, indicating that this type of pain is still a prevalent problem.

A new survey from the American Pain Foundation (APF) reveals that three out of four cancer patients cite breakthrough cancer pain—sudden, temporary flares of severe pain that occur even when pain medication is used—as one of the most challenging parts of having cancer.

Of the patients who were surveyed, more than half (53%) rated their breakthrough cancer pain an eight, nine, or 10 on a 10-point scale, “with 10 being the worst pain imaginable.” A large majority of patients (91%) said that their quality of life would “greatly improve” if the breakthrough pain they experienced was managed better. In addition, nearly half of patients (44%) said that their breakthrough pain was not adequately controlled.

“We’re not talking about minor aches and pains,” said Will Rowe, CEO of the AFP. “These severe flares of pain often strike without warning, leaving many people fearful of the next crippling episode and unduly burdening patients and their families. Effective pain management is critical to restoring the quality of life these individuals so rightfully deserve.”

The survey also found that breakthrough cancer pain is not just a physical issue, but a financial burden as well. According to survey results, 66% of patients are taking more medication because of the pain, and a little more than half (51%) visit their healthcare provider more often as a result. Almost three-quarters of patients (73%) said that breakthrough cancer pain has “increased their daily medical expenses; sixty-seven percent said they have experienced medical-related financial issues as a result of their breakthrough cancer pain; and more than one in three (37 percent) have increased medical care-related debt.”

“The phenomenon of breakthrough cancer pain presents a challenge for patients and their healthcare providers because it occurs even when a patient is taking the right dose of medication on a regular basis,” said Russell K. Portenoy, MD, Chairman, Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care, Beth Israel Medical Center and member of the APF board of directors. “Providers and patients should not accept breakthrough cancer pain as a normal side effect of cancer. More studies are needed to determine the most effective treatments to alleviate this pain.”

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