Original Article| Volume 60, ISSUE 6, P1127-1135.e2, December 2020

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Palliative Care's Role Managing Cancer Pain During the Opioid Crisis: A Qualitative Study of Patients, Caregivers, and Clinicians



      Patients with cancer face symptoms because of disease and treatment, and pain is common and complex. The opioid crisis may complicate patients' and clinicians' experiences of managing pain in cancer care.


      In our study of perceptions and experiences with palliative care (PC) at an outpatient cancer center, we examined communication around symptom management throughout cancer care, and pain and its management emerged as particularly salient. The objective of this article is to describe, from the perspectives of patients, caregivers, and oncology health care professionals, the role of PC in navigating the complicated dynamics of pain management amidst the opioid crisis.


      A qualitative descriptive study with grounded theory components was designed to investigate experiences with and perceptions of specialist PC and symptom management, including pain. Interviews were audiorecorded and transcribed, and focused coding identified themes related to pain and pain management from all three perspectives.


      About 44 patients, caregivers, and non-PC health care professionals completed interviews. Patients with cancer and their caregivers had many concerns about pain management and were specifically concerned about opioid use and stigma. For patients, PC improved pain management and helped to destigmatize appropriate pain management. Oncology clinicians reported that partnering with PC facilitated complex pain management and also provided moral support around difficult opioid recommendations for patients.


      PC offers the potential to uniquely support both patients and other oncology professionals in optimally navigating the complexity around pain management for cancer care in the midst of the opioid crisis.

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