NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Up to 80 percent of cancer patients who undergo radiation treatment do not take medications to combat pain, a new study indicates.

Many of the patients cited fears of addiction as well as cost as their reasons for saying no to painkillers. However, the most common reason given was that their healthcare provider had not recommended medication, according to the report.

“To eliminate barriers to optimal pain management for cancer patients, healthcare providers should talk with their patients about pain symptoms and pain medications,” Dr. Charles Simone, from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, said in a statement.

The current findings come from an Internet-based questionnaire posted on OncoLink (www.oncolink.org) examining analgesic use and pain control in cancer patients getting radiation treatment. Data from 106 patients were included in the analysis.

Forty-six percent of patients reported pain related to the cancer itself, and 58 percent of subjects had pain from their treatment, the report’s authors note in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics.

The only statistically significant factor linked to non-use of painkillers was educational level. Specifically, individuals with education beyond high school were less likely to use analgesics than those with lower educational levels: 11 percent vs. 36 percent.

Lower rates of use were also noted by whites compared with other races (16 percent vs. 32 percent) and by women than men (17 percent vs. 29 percent).

Patients with pain who chose not to use analgesics often tried alternative therapies.

To improve pain control for cancer patients undergoing radiation, Simone said that his center, the Radiation Oncology Branch of the NCI, has established an electronic system that requires healthcare providers to assess pain levels and pain medication every time they see a patient.

SOURCE: International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics, September 1, 2008.

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