Benefits and Risks of Opioids in Cancer Care

August 29, 2017
Judith A. Paice, PhD, RN

The ASCO Educational Book is a collection of articles written by ASCO Annual Meeting speakers and oncology experts. Published annually, each volume highlights the most compelling research and developments across many different fields of cancer care.

Judith A. Paice, PhD, RN, is a research professor of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

In this podcast from the ASCO Educational Book, Dr. Judith A. Paice discusses the risks and benefits of using opioids to treat cancer-related pain in patients and survivors. She also discusses alternatives to opioid use for pain reduction.

Pain is a common side effect of cancer and its treatment. More than half of people with cancer experience pain.share on twitter Pain management often includes a variety of treatment options, from prescription medications to physical therapy and meditation.

Opioids are a category of pain-relief medications that includes fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone. These medications are essential for helping patients with pain from advanced cancer. At the same time, because opioids have a potential for misuse or abuse, doctors are careful about prescribing them for long-term use. And, long-term use of opioids can have significant side effects.

Physical therapy, such as massage, and psychologic techniques, such as mindfulness, can help relieve pain and other side effects caused by cancer and its treatment. Clinical trials studying the effectiveness of physical therapy and mindfulness in treating pain have shown promising results.

Cannabinoids are also emerging as an alternative pain treatment, but ASCO does not recommend using cannabis as the first option to treat pain because there is not enough evidence to support doing so. Marijuana and its derivatives are also illegal on a federal level, even as medicine. The use of cannabis also may have side effects of its own. The number of research studies on cannabinoids has been rising. But the use of cannabis is controversial, and more research is needed.

Major Discussion Points

  • What challenges do patients and survivors face when it comes to cancer-related pain? [4:07]

  • How do doctors make sure opioids are prescribed and used safely? [5:11]

  • How can physical therapy and mindfulness help manage pain? [6:59]

  • What is the research about cannabis in helping relieve cancer pain? [8:24]

This is a prerecorded audio podcast. It can be listened to online or downloaded to your computer. A transcript of this podcast is also available. For more information, visit the Cancer.Net podcast page.