Saturday, September 29, 2012

Millions of cancer patients suffer unnecessary pain

Cancer is one of the worst diseases known to man, especially because many forms are hard to treat and are often lethal. Additionally, the disease itself, or even the treatment, can cause a lot of pain. Fortunately, pain can almost always be treated due to a vast arsenal of analgesics. A recent study has shown that despite the availability of painkillers, many cancer patients worldwide suffer from pain as a result from their cancer. According to the lead researcher, the study "paints a shocking picture of unnecessary pain on a global scale".

To gather the required knowledge the Israeli scientists conducted a survey at various palliative care institutions aided by international oncology organizations. By doing that, they reached a total of 76 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas and the Caribbean. Apparently, Europe was not included for unknown reasons. According to the scientists, the size of their survey makes it representative for almost all the people in the world. In the 1,5 years that the survey was conducted, a total of 156 expert reports were generated, describing the use of painkillers in oncology care around the world.

One of the key findings of the report was that very few countries have access to all seven types of medication, the so-called opioids, that are deemed necessary for successfully countering pain in cancer patients. An example of an opioid analgesic is morphine. In addition to limited access, many countries also have stringent requirements for the use of such painkillers for cancer patients, impeding its use for those requiring pain relief. Examples include limitations to the duration at which opioid analgesics can be prescribed or restrictions in the dispensation of the drugs.

According to the scientists, the report shows that many cancer patients suffer unnecessarily due to limited access and prescription regulations impeding the use of highly required drugs. If the report is deemed accurate, it means millions of cancer patients suffer from pain that could be properly treated by providing the right kind of drug. The researchers claim their report shows that many countries should take a look at their regulatory attitude towards use of painkillers: "In many, if not most, of the counties and states we have looked at, patients are stymied by regulatory barriers at multiple steps along this process; the end result being that hundreds of millions patients don't have access to essential pain-relieving medications," the lead author of the report said.

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