Managing Chronic Pain in Cancer Survivors Prescribed Long-Term Opioid Therapy: A National Survey of Ambulatory Palliative Care Providers

Jessica S. Merlin, Kanan Patel, Nicole Thompson, Jennifer Kapo, Frank Keefe, Jane Liebschutz, Judith Paice, Tamara Somers, Joanna Starrels, Julie Childers, Yael Schenker, Christine S. Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Context: Chronic pain, or pain lasting more than three months, is common among cancer survivors, who are often prescribed long-term opioid therapy (LTOT). Objective: Our objective was to explore palliative care providers’ experiences with managing chronic pain in cancer survivors prescribed LTOT, specifically in ambulatory palliative care settings, and their strategies for overcoming challenges. Methods: We recruited providers through leading national palliative care organizations who manage chronic pain in cancer survivors. Asked to consider only cancer survivors with chronic pain when responding, participants completed an online survey that included questions about use of opioid risk mitigation tools, confidence in addressing opioid misuse behaviors and discussing/recommending management approaches, and access to addiction treatment. Results: Of 157 participants, most were physicians (83%) or nurse practitioners (15%). Most reported using opioid risk mitigation tools such as urine drug testing (71%), opioid treatment agreements (85%), and practitioner database monitoring programs (94%). Participants were confident (7–8/10) managing the most commonly encountered opioid misuse behaviors (missing appointments, marijuana use, and using more opioids than prescribed) and in their ability to recommend nonpharmacologic and nonopioid pharmacologic treatments for chronic pain (10/10). They were least confident prescribing naloxone or managing addiction (5/10); only 27% reported having training or systems in place to address addiction. Only 13% had a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine. Conclusion: Palliative care providers are comfortable with many aspects of managing chronic pain in cancer survivors on LTOT, although challenges persist, including the lack of systems-based approaches and training in addiction treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-27
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Palliative care
  • ambulatory medicine
  • cancer pain
  • cancer survivor
  • opioids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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