Breast Cancer Coverage from Every Angle

Chronic Opioid Use in Breast Cancer Survivors

By: Anna Nowogrodzki
Posted: Thursday, May 30, 2019

Breast cancer survivors appear to no more likely be chronic opioid users than matched patients who do not have cancer, according to a new study. The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by Talya Salz, PhD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and colleagues.

“The trend of diminishing chronic opioid use over time since cancer diagnosis is reassuring, especially considering the risks older survivors face,” stated the investigators. “However, future analyses may reveal more risk for chronic opioid use among subpopulations receiving different treatments.”

The study included 21,829 breast cancer survivors and 64,583 matched non-cancer control subjects drawn from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry and Medicare. Cancer survivors were 66 years or older at diagnosis and did not engage in chronic opioid use in the year before diagnosis. Each survivor was matched with three non-cancer control subjects by age, sex, race, Charlson comorbidity index score (excluding cancer), and geographic region. Patients with cancer were not included if they were enrolled in end-of-life hospice care, when opioids can be necessary for palliative reasons.

Each year from 1 to 6 years after diagnosis, the researchers compared cancer survivors and control subjects for chronic opioid use, defined as 90 or more continuous days of opioid use. Breast cancer survivors were less likely than non-cancer control subjects to be chronic opioid users in all 6 years after diagnosis. The authors speculate that this may be because most breast cancer survivors in the study had early-stage disease, which may have been associated with less painful treatments.

Disclosure: The study authors’ disclosure information may be found at

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