Why Breast Cancer Patients on Opioids Avoid Life-Prolonging Therapy

New Study Uncovers Disturbing Causality

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Department of Public Health services has uncovered a disturbing reason for breast cancer patients’ failure to complete the hormone therapy regimen that is considered essential for long-term survival following cancer therapy. Adjuvant endocrine therapy, which may be required for up to 10 years post-treatment, is associated with a variety of adverse effects that include severe joint and muscle pain. Women who suffer these effects are often prescribed opioids for pain management, and the study thus noted a correlation between opioid use and failure to adhere. But, the researchers caution, this does not necessarily imply a causal connection. The findings were published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

The study examined hormone therapy adherence among more than 10,000 women with average age of 72.3. Opioid use was most common in women who underwent chemotherapy and surgery, vs those who received radiation, and was more frequent among women who were single, younger, and who suffered from more advanced cancer. This cohort was “significantly associated” with both failure to adhere to hormone therapy and higher mortality risk. But, the authors caution, their findings need to be interpreted with care. Researcher Virginia LeBaron, PhD, commented, “…it is critically important we ensure that prescription opioid medications are accessible to cancer patients who need them, but at the same time we must ensure we have appropriate systems in place to mitigate risk and reduce potential harms related to these medications.”

Read a news story about the study findings. 

The journal abstract may be read here.

 

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