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Head And Neck Cancer Patient Opioid Prescription Use Highlighted

Head and neck cancer patients might have a different pattern of opioid use to their counterparts with lung or colon cancer
09 Mar 2018
Head and Neck Cancers;  Palliative Care
By Lynda Williams, Senior medwireNews Reporter

medwireNews: Patients receiving treatment for head and neck cancer (HNCA) are more likely to be prescribed opioids than patients with lung cancer or colon cancer (LCCA), US researchers have found.

“Data suggest that patients with HNCA have a higher prevalence of pain than patients with other cancer types, which may explain a necessity for more intensive pain management regimens”, write Rosh Sethi, from Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, USA, and co-investigators.

Using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys for 2011, 2013 and 2015, the team collated 168 prescriptions given to patients with HNCA and 571 prescriptions to LCCA patients. 

Patients with HNCA were a significant 1.68 times more likely to receive an opioid than their LCCA counterparts, the investigators report in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery.

Analysis of oxycodone tablet prescriptions showed that HNCA patients were prescribed an average 87.1 tablets while LCCA patients received an average of 71.0 tablets, although the researchers admit the standardised mean difference between the two groups was “highly variable.”

HNCA and LCCA patients took opioids for a similar length of time, at an average of 15.7 and 15.5 days, respectively.

Rosh Sethi et al highlight previous research showing that long-term opioid use for oral surgery may be linked to poorer disease-free survival and that it is “critical” to balance pain management and the risk of substance overuse and misuse.

“This study provides preliminary insight into opioid prescription behaviors; however, it is limited by the absence of prior oncologic treatment, tumor stage, and location, as well as comorbid chronic pain conditions”, the investigators note.

“There is an urgent need for further quantification and understanding of postprocedural and chronic opioid use in this patient population”, they believe.


Sethi RKV, Panth N, Puram SV, Varvares MA. Opioid prescription patterns among patients with head and neck cancer. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg; Advance online publication 8 March 2018.

Last update: 09 Mar 2018

medwireNews (www.medwireNews.com) is an independent medical news service provided by Springer Healthcare. © 2018 Springer Healthcare part of the Springer Nature group

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