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Opioid prescription after pain assessment: a population-based cohort of elderly patients with cancer


Purpose — The purpose of this study was to measure opioid prescription (OP) rates in elderly cancer outpatients around the time of assessment for pain and to evaluate factors associated with receiving OPs for those with severe pain.

Methods — The cross-sectional cohort includes all patients with cancer in Ontario older than age 65 years who completed a pain assessment as part of a provincial initiative of systematic symptom screening. Patients were assigned to mutually exclusive categories by pain score severity: 0, 1 to 3 (mild), 4 to 6 (moderate), and 7 to 10 (severe). The researchers linked multiple provincial health databases to examine the proportion of patients with an OP within 7 days after or 30 days before the assessment date. The researchers examined factors associated with OPs for patients with pain scores of 7 to 10.

Results — The proportion of patients with an OP increased as pain score severity increased: 10% of those with no pain, 24% of those with mild pain, 45% of those with moderate pain, and 67% of those with severe pain. More specifically, for those with severe pain, 41% filled an OP within 7 days of assessment for pain, and 26% had an OP from the 30 days before assessment for pain, leaving 33% without an OP. In multivariable analysis, factors associated with OPs are younger age, male sex, comorbid illness, cancer type, and assessment at home.

Conclusion — Despite a generous time window for capturing OPs, the proportion of patients without an OP seems high. Further knowledge translation is required to maximize the impact of the symptom screening initiative in Ontario and to optimize management of cancer-related pain.



Barbera L, Seow H, Husain A, Howell D, Atzema C, Sutradhar R, Earle C, Sussman J, Liu Y, Dudgeon D. J Clin Oncol. 2012; 30(10):1095-9. Epub 2012 Feb 27.

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