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Knowledge boosts pain killing drugs

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Giving cancer patients information on how to deal with their pain and manage their medicine can result in a 20 per cent improvement in pain control, according to research presented at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Birmingham today (Wednesday).

Explaining how pain-killers worked and debunking any fears people had about the drugs reduced the pain cancer patients felt by an additional one point on a scale of one to ten, where average pain scores are about five out of ten.

All patients were being treated with strong pain-killers but those given the additional information experienced significantly better pain control.

The researchers are calling for educational programmes on managing cancer pain and strong pain-killers to be given routinely alongside treatment drugs for cancer.

Lead researcher Professor Michael Bennett, based at Lancaster University, said: “This is good news for cancer patients.

“Helping people manage pain is a major challenge for doctors and our research shows for the first time that education is an effective, easy and cheap way to do this.

“It’s astonishing that simply taking the time to explain to people about their pain and medicines can result in better pain control than just relying on strong pain-killers alone. It shows just how complex an issue pain is and that sometimes it really pays to address patients’ concerns to improve their quality of life.

“Some of our related research also suggests that this type of approach is especially relevant for older patients.

“We think this type of intervention should be used by doctors and other health professionals on a regular basis – it’s an effective method that’s sadly underused in the clinic.”

Around 40 per cent of people with cancer experience pain by the time they are diagnosed. This rises to 70 per cent for people with more advanced disease.

The researchers looked at the level of pain felt by someone from having cancer reported on a scale from one to ten. They reviewed 21 studies on the topic and for the first time were able to demonstrate a clear benefit on pain control for this type of approach.

The information given to patients included encouraging patients to tell doctors and nurses about their pain, reducing misconceptions about risk of addiction and side-effects, and advice on how and when to take their pain-killers.

Professor Mike Richards, national cancer director and professor of palliative medicine, said: “Even with strong pain killers, some cancer patients continue to experience pain. This study is very important as it highlights the added benefits of providing good information and communicating effectively with patients.”


For media enquiries please contact the NCRI press office on 020 7061 8300, or the out-of-hours duty press officer on 07050 264059.

Bennett, M. Strategies in cancer pain management. NCRI conference 2009.