JUN 25, 2019 11:49 AM PDT

Chronic Pain Rate Double for Cancer Survivors, Especially for These Subgroups

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Not surprisingly, chronic pain is associated with lessened adherence to medical treatment and quality of life and is linked to higher health care costs.

“While acute pain is a normal sensation triggered in the nervous system to alert you to possible injury and the need to take care of yourself, chronic pain is different. Chronic pain persists,” the NIH Neurological Institute explains.

Chronic pain is also one of the main long-term side effects of cancer treatment. Yet, according to a research team from the American Cancer Society, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and University of Virginia, “there is a paucity of information regarding the prevalence of, and risk factors for, the development of chronic pain among cancer survivors.”

The researchers set out to use data from the 2016-2017 National Health Interview Survey, a big country-wide dataset from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to explore the prevalence of chronic pain and high-impact chronic pain (HICP), which is chronic pain with “major activity restriction,” among U.S. cancer survivors. They found approximately 35 percent of cancer survivors in America have chronic pain -- about twice the rate of the general population. This represents 5.39 million patients.

Person in pain, public domain

"This study provided the first comprehensive estimate of chronic pain prevalence among cancer survivors. These results highlight the important unmet needs of pain management in the large and growing cancer survivorship community,” Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai West medical resident and author Changchuan Jiang, MD, MPH, said.

Another key finding was that certain types of cancer, including kidney, bone, throat and uterine, were associated with a higher incidence of chronic and severe pain and HICP. And, chronic pain is more common for the unemployed and underinsured.

“A better understanding of the epidemiology of pain in cancer survivors can help inform future health care educational priorities and policies,” the authors state.

Person in pain, public domain

The research letter, “Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain in Cancer Survivors in the United States,” was published in the journal JAMA Oncology in June, 2019.


Sources: EurekAlert, JAMA Oncology

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech and conservation.
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