The Truth Hurts About Cancer Pain

April 26, 2010

Studies have shown that 90% of patients with advanced cancer experience severe pain. Studies have also found that more than 50% of patients are undertreated for their cancer pain. Considering that we have the ability to properly manage the great majority of cancer pain, why are so many of our patients suffering needlessly?

Studies have shown that 90% of patients with advanced cancer experience severe pain. Studies have also found that more than 50% of patients are undertreated for their cancer pain. Considering that we have the ability to properly manage the great majority of cancer pain, why are so many of our patients suffering needlessly?

Undertreated cancer pain and its consequential suffering is one of the prime failures in our delivery system.  This problem has been identified and quantified by numerous high-grade studies, but little progress has been made, especially in traditionally underserved and economically challenged populations. Adding to this problem is persistent ignorance on both the professional and lay level about opiates, still the gold standard in treating moderate to severe pain. In order to deliver proper pain management, practitioners need to be knowledgeable in the multi-factorial dimensions of pain. 

Unfortunately, especially in the community setting, there’s not only a lack of knowledge, but there’s also little incentive to spend unreimbursed time delivering the cognitive services necessary in pain management.

As reported in a recent article in ONCOLOGY, breakthrough pain is also misunderstood and undertreated: “The vast majority (95%) of those who currently see a health-care provider for their cancer or cancer pain have discussed breakthrough cancer pain with their health-care provider at some point. Incidentally, more than half (52%) said their health-care provider has described breakthrough cancer pain as a normal side effect of cancer or its treatment.”


To be fair, leading practitioners in pain and palliative care have, over the past decade, have made strides in bringing awareness to this issue. But awareness alone isn’t enough. Undertreated cancer pain should become a priority for all the major cancer organizations. We have the tools, now we need concerted action.


Check out the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care (IAHPC) for a list of conferences, events, meetings & symposiums dedicated to furthering the goal of reducing the pain and suffering due to cancer. http://www.hospicecare.com/events/evevents_list.php