Patients with cancer maintain higher rates of opioid prescription use even after survivorship compared with patients who have never had cancer, according to a study published in Cancer.

Treating cancer pain with opioids is common practice in pain management, but there have been no studies that investigated the rate of opioid usage in cancer survivors vs the overall population.

For this retrospective study, researchers selected 8601 cancer survivors from a database that were at least 5 years removed from initial diagnosis and had no evidence for recurrence or relapse. The median time since diagnosis was 10 years. These patients were matched 1:1 with a person without a prior cancer diagnosis based on sex and age, and their opioid prescription rates were tracked.  

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The study results showed that the opioid prescribing rate was 1.22 times higher in survivors vs in the patients without cancer they were matched with (relative rate [RR], 1.219; 95% CI, 1.11-1.33).

Researchers also found evidence that opioid usage was significantly higher in cancer survivors who were younger, from rural neighborhoods, in the lower income quintiles, and had more comorbidities. The prescribing rate remained elevated even for patients who were 10 years removed from their initial diagnosis.

The authors conclude that there is a “need for survivors of cancer to be cared for by providers that are able to give supportive cancer care and are experienced in holistic approaches for managing chronic pain.”


Sutradhar R, Lokku A, Barbera L. Cancer survivorship and opioid prescribing rates: a population-based matched cohort study among individuals with and without a history of cancer [published online August 7, 2017]. Cancer. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30839