Chronic opioid use occurred in more than half of patients with oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OPSCC) after undergoing radiotherapy, according to findings presented at the 2018 American Head & Neck Society Annual Meeting.

The majority of patients with OPSCC report experiencing significant pain at the time of diagnosis. Opioids are the standard of care for pain management in this population, and with the nature of OPSCC, treatment-related toxicities, and improved survival, the incidence of chronic opioid use is increasing.

For this retrospective review, study authors assessed the outcomes of 199 patients with oropharynx cancer who received chemoradiotherapy or radiotherapy as primary therapy between 2012 and 2017 at the University of Florida in order to identify the prevalence of chronic opioid use, and for potential risk factors leading to dependence/abuse. Patient p16/HPV status, as well as chronic opioid use (defined as 3 months postoperatively), were recorded.

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After a median follow-up of 31 months, analysis revealed that 103 (53%) patients engaged in chronic opioid use.

Of the various baseline characteristics that were measured, younger age (62 years and younger), history of depression, negative p16/HPV tumor status, pretreatment opioid use, and having a chronic pain condition at the time of diagnosis were significant predictors of chronic opioid use.

The authors concluded that “Identifying patients at greatest risk for chronic opioid use prior to treatment may help with long-term pain management in this patient population.” 


Dourado J, Hitchcock K, Dziegielewski P, et al. Chronic opioid use in patients with oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma treated with radiotherapy. Oral presentation at: 2018 American Head & Neck Society Annual Meeting; April 18-19, 2018; National Harbor, MD.