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Three-Fourths of Cancer Patients Have Severe Flares of Pain

American Pain Foundation offers support with new online resources, coping tips

FRIDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Breakthrough cancer pain is a major challenge for 75 percent of adult cancer patients, according to new survey findings released by the American Pain Foundation.

Breakthrough cancer pain refers to sudden, temporary flares of severe pain that occur even when a patient is taking pain medication.

"We're not talking about minor aches and pain. 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," Will Rowe, chief executive officer of the American Pain Foundation, said in a news release from the foundation. "Effective pain management is critical to restoring the quality of life these individuals so rightfully deserve," he added.

The survey included 545 adults aged 18 and older who've been diagnosed with cancer, are currently living with cancer-related pain, are taking medication to manage the pain, and experience sudden temporary flares of pain.

About 53 percent of respondents rated their pain an eight, nine or 10 out of 10, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable. The survey also found that 44 percent said their pain wasn't adequately controlled and 91 percent said their quality of life would "greatly improve" if their breakthrough pain could be brought under control.

Among the other findings:

  • 73 percent of respondents said breakthrough cancer pain wakes them from a deep sleep at least once a month.
  • 76 percent said breakthrough pain limits their ability to do everyday household chores.
  • 83 percent said breakthrough pain affects their desire to participate in certain activities.
  • 66 percent take more medications as a result of their breakthrough pain, which also forces 51 percent to visit their health-care provider more often.
  • 73 percent said breakthrough pain has increased their daily medical expenses, 67 percent have experienced medical-related financial issues due to breakthrough pain, and 37 percent said breakthrough pain has led to increased medical care-related debt.
  • 52 percent of respondents said their health-care provider has told them breakthrough pain is a normal side effect of cancer or its treatment.

"The phenomenon of breakthrough cancer pain presents a challenge for patients and their health-care providers because it occurs even when a patient is taking the right dose of medication on a regular basis," Dr. Russell K. Portenoy, chairman of the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, and a member of the American Pain Foundation board of directors, said in the news release.

"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," Portenoy said.

In an effort to help patients and caregivers, the American Pain Foundation has introduced the following resources:

  • An online toolkit that offers information about breakthrough pain, tips for ensuring that pain management is an integral part of cancer care, treatment options, and answers to frequently asked questions.
  • A dedicated online chat and interactive Web-based seminar called When Cancer Pain Breaks Through.
  • Articles on breakthrough cancer pain and the best ways to cope with cancer pain will be featured in the American Pain Foundation's quarterly newsletter, Pain Community News.
  • A roundtable discussion on breakthrough cancer pain that will feature leading cancer and other medical experts.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about cancer pain.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Pain Foundation, news release, Jan. 28, 2010

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