Studies show that more than 70% of cancer patients develop significant pain during the course of treatment, and that effective drugs are available.
Dr. Betty Ferrell of City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, California, said fear of addiction keeps many physicians from prescribing--and many patients from asking about--pain relief.
"Both patients and doctors are often more worried about addiction than pain relief- especially when the patients are children," Ferrell said.
Because of advances in cancer treatment, patients are living longer with the disease, Ferrell said, adding that it is imperative that doctors and patients educate themselves about how to effectively treat pain through the 'entire spectrum of illness', from diagnosis though the end of life.
Dr. Robert L. DeWitty, Jr., of Howard University in Washington DC said "addiction should not be an issue for oncologists" and physicians should prescribe, and patients should ask for pain medication using the 'step method.'
"I advise to start light and to move up: First starting with a non narcotic, if possible, followed by a long lasting narcotic, taken orally two times a day. If pain still persists, I usually recommend the Rolls Royce of pain medication, the morphine pump, where 100% of the pain can be alleviated."
DeWitty added that some pharmacists are reluctant to prescribe narcotics to patients, and a physician should pick pharmacists whom he or she knows and who is familiar with his or her signature. "I am happy when pharmacists call me up to verify my signature, I don't mind one bit, and I encourage them to do so," DeWitty said.