Many terminal cancer patients are not getting adequate pain relief early enough, according to a University of Leeds study. The researchers found that, on average, terminal cancer patients were given their first dose of a strong opioid such as morphine just nine weeks before their death. Yet many people with terminal cancer suffer with pain a long time before that, the researchers said.
The research team used UK Cancer Registry data to study a sample of 6,080 patients who died of the disease between 2005 and 2012. They found that 48 per cent of the patients were issued a prescription in general practice (primary care) for a strong opioid medication, such as morphine, during the last year of their life.
The study, published in the medical journal Pain, said efforts to improve treatment of cancer pain may be being hindered by concern over the ongoing ‘opioid epidemic’.
They cited NHS data which showed that overall opioid prescribing increased by 466 per cent between 2000 and 2010, but only increased by 16 per cent for patients with cancer.
Full reference: Lucy Ziegler et. al. Opioid prescribing for patients with cancer in the last year of life. PAIN, Published Ahead of Print 2016