Head and Neck Cancers Coverage from Every Angle
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Oropharyngeal Cancer and Opioid Use

By: Lauren Harrison, MS
Posted: Wednesday, January 23, 2019

As a part of their symptom management, patients diagnosed with oral and oropharyngeal cancers appear to be at a high risk of being prescribed opioids. Jessica D. McDermott, MD, of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Aurora, and colleagues published their findings from a retrospective population-based study in Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, revealing that a significant number of these patients still use opioids at 3 and 6 months after treatment completion.

“You shouldn’t need opioids at the 6-month point,” Dr. McDermott said on Colorado Cancer Blogs. “We hope that we can use [these] data to help patients manage pain better.”

A total of 976 patients were identified from the Medicare database who received treatment for oral or oropharyngeal cancer between 2008 and 2011. Of these patients, 811 (83.1%) were prescribed opioids during their treatment period. After treatment ended, 150 patients (15.4%) and 68 patients (7.0%) continued to have active opioid prescriptions for 3 and 6 months, respectively. Patients who had previously received opioid prescriptions were more likely to use prescriptions both during their cancer care (odds ratio = 3.28) and at 3 and 6 months after treatment (odds ratio = 3.84). Of interest, if oxycodone was prescribed as the first opioid, patients seemed to be less likely to continue opioid use at 3 and 6 months.

“Especially if [a patient] has risk factors [such as a history of smoking and/or alcohol use or opioids prescribed prior to treatment], I might counsel them more about the risks of addiction and misuse, and keep an eye on it,” Dr. McDermott said.

Disclosure: The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.

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