Study Says Breast Cancer Patients Taking Pain Meds Less Likely to Adhere to Hormone Therapy


Chronic pain is a regular part of breast cancer for many undergoing treatment. Going with that, many who've completed treatment may have have ten years of hormone therapies as well. A new study has found that patients who take opoid medications for pain are less likely to adhere to preventative hormone therapies and face a higher risk of death as a result.

The study, published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, did not find a clear reason for the pain meds being associated with lower adhesion to long-term therapy.

The lead researcher for the study suggests that the reason could be the pain, not the medications.

"The main problem is that these hormonal medications … have so many side effects that women do not want to take them. They can cause really severe joint and muscle pain in a significant number of women," said Leslie Blackhall, M.D., a pain-management expert and researcher at the UVA Health System.

Blackhall says that more data is needed in order to learn whether the higher death risk if from the opoids themselves, whether the pain management is the reason for the lower adherence, and whether the medications involved are the reason for lower long-term expectation.

The study looked at treatment adherence among more than 10,000 women. The average age of the women in the study was 72 years old and patient records were accessed via the SEER database maintained by the National Cancer Institute. The study did find some interesting correlations between opoid use and metrics within the study group.

The younger the woman with breast cancer, the higher the likelihood that opoids would be prescribed during treatment. The more advanced the cancer, the more likely opoids were involved in treatment. Women with depression and who were single were also more likely to be taking opoids for pain management related to their cancer treatment. Conversely, women who had targeted radiation therapy were far less likely to be using opoids during or after treatment.

The researchers concluded that while more research is required, the importance of a balanced approach to therapy, pain medications, and the availability of pain management options are all very important to the long-term outcome of a breast cancer patient's recovery.



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