WILMINGTON, Del--Nine leading health care professionals from the United States' top cancer hospitals, research facilities, and nonprofit organizations have joined together as members of the National Cancer Pain Coalition (NCPC), with the goal of improving chronic cancer pain treatment (see box).
The NCPC, supported by Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, is committed to improving the management of chronic cancer pain by enhancing education and communication between health professionals and cancer patients concerning pain and its treatment.
Patients with cancer pain comprise the largest segment of the moderate-to-severe chronic pain market. According to the American Cancer Society, pain is a significant problem for 50% to 70% of the nearly 10 million Americans who have a history of cancer.
The NCPC will address cancer pain management issues and develop educational materials for the medical and oncology patient community. The Coalition's goal is to ensure that no patient is undertreated for their cancer pain. To accomplish this goal, the Coalition will meet semiannually to discuss the current issues, trends, and educational needs in pain management.
One of the first issues the group will address will be how to bridge the communication gap that exists in many health professional/patient relationships. Educational materials addressing this issue will be available in 1997.
"I'd like to think the patients I treat receive effective treatment for their pain. However, if a patient is not completely open with me, I have no way of knowing if additional treatment is required," says NCPC member Russell Portenoy, MD, Department of Neurology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "The NCPC is developing a national education program for patients, their families, physicians, and other health professionals to open the lines of communication and increase the understanding and treatment of pain."
"Patients are often reluctant to discuss their pain with their physicians," says NCPC member Diane Blum, executive director, Cancer Care, Inc. "They may be fearful about becoming addicted to pain drugs, or believe that they must hold off on treatment until the pain is really severe. People tell us that they worry that pain is a symptom of their disease progressing, and are afraid to acknowledge it to the doctor." These and other cancer pain myths are addressed in an NCPC handout.