Cancer Research UK 'concerned' over pain-relief study

In collaboration with the Press Association

A Europe-wide study has found that medicines which could provide relief from cancer-related pain are being underused, with some patients suffering unnecessary levels of pain. The European Association of Palliative Care's (EAPC) survey studied over 4,000 cancer patients and found that, of the two in three patients who suffer from pain, one in three experiences significant and distressing levels. More than two thirds of patients participating in the European Pain in Cancer (EPIC) survey said that their pain led to difficulties in carrying out everyday activities; 42 per cent said their pain affected their family relationships; and two thirds felt that other people did not appreciate the amount of pain they were in. Medications do exist to help manage pain, but 62 per cent of respondents taking prescribed drugs for pain said that they still experience short, intense bursts, often at least once a week.

Cancer Research UK Information Nurse Manager, Martin Ledwick, expressed concern at the results. "It is almost always possible to treat the pain and other symptoms that cancer sometimes causes, so it is concerning that pain was not always well controlled for a significant number of people in the study," he said.

"The survey suggests that effective communication between patients and their health care team would be a way to prevent people getting into this situation. We strongly support this. Not only does Cancer Research UK fund research into symptom control, we also support research into communication issues and effective communication between health care professionals and cancer patients.

"People can also seek advice from the nurses on our telephone information service about pain and symptom control, and the kinds of questions to ask their doctor to make sure they get the best care and support."

Just 36 per cent of cancer patients had been prescribed a strong opioid (the strongest type of painkiller) and 66 per cent were using alternative methods such as heat and massage to try and make themselves more comfortable. Dr Franco De Conno, honorary director of the EAPC, said that, despite the availability of effective treatments, pain in cancer patients was "not always managed effectively". "Doctors should be communicating regularly with patients about their pain, using available treatments and ensuring that less effective drugs are not continued when a stronger alternative could significantly improve pain management and, therefore, quality of life," he said.