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Better Pain Management Improves Health Related Quality of Life (hrQoL)

By Peter Hofland, Ph.D and Sonia Portillo, B.Sc

In this edition of The Onco’Zine Brief Peter Hofland talk with Dr. Lisa Stearns, the founder and medical director of Center for Pain and Supportive Care, in Phoenix, Arizona. An internationally recognized Interventional Pain Specialist, board certified in hospice and palliative medicine and pain management, Dr. Stearns’ passion for changing the face of acute and chronic pain-treatment is evidenced by her ongoing care for her patients and her active research to find a better way to manage pain. In addition to her work at the Center for Pain and Supportive Care, Dr. Stearns has authored numerous research articles and frequently speaks at medical society meetings around the world to share her knowledge and her passion to help her patients. Cancer and cancer treatments can be painful. And patients often experience pain from surgery - from tumors pressing on bones, nerves, or organs and from chemotherapy and radiation. But each of these kinds of pain can be controlled and kept at a bearable level. Dr. Sterns and her co-workers at the Center for Pain and Supportive Care work with cancer patients to develop a unique pain-management and rehabilitation-plan, based on a patient’s type of cancer. Using a palliative care model Dr. Stearns brings together a team of healthcare professionals to help create the best possible quality of life for her patients and their overall health and wellness. As a nation we battle an escalating opioid-overdose crisis – driven by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl but also tramadol and other drugs. Based on the latest data, this crisis claims more than 100 lives per day. In their response to this crisis, the government has enacted tougher new laws and regulations on opioid prescribing. These laws are, however well-intentioned, also restricting access to opioids for cancer patients. At the same time, opioid-use, has an addiction stigma among many patients with cancer. But, how common are opioid-related deaths in patients with cancer? To answer this question, researchers at the Duke University School of Medicine conducted a retrospective review of death certificate data from the National Center of Health Statistics, which provides information about the cause of death as well as and the contributing factors. The researchers looked at data from deaths due to opioids from 2006 to 2016. They calculated the opioid death incidence from the estimated cancer survivor population, as well as the total population of the United States. The researchers found that from 2006 to 2016, about 900 deaths were related to opioids in patients with cancer. However, this was compared with about 200,000 deaths in the non-cancer population. Opioid deaths in both groups did increase over time, from about 5 to almost 9 per 100,000 people in the general population and 0.5 to 0.7 per 100,000 in the cancer patient population. The researchers noted that in real, practical terms, the volume of overdose deaths in patients with cancer is very small. It increased from 59 patients in 2006 to 102 patients in 2016. The researchers involved in this study found that deaths from opioid abuse, as the primary cause of death, is about 10 times less likely to occur in patients with cancer. Healthcare professionals like Dr. Lisa Stearns are committed to help cancer patients with pain management designed to improve the individual’s health related Quality of Life.

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