THURSDAY, June 13, 2019 (HealthDay News) — The rates of prolonged opioid prescribing remain high for older cancer survivors five or more years after cancer diagnosis, according to a study published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Rahul Shah, from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and colleagues examined the rates and predictors of long-term opioid therapy in 68,815 cancer survivors (≥66 years old) who were Medicare Parts A, B, and D beneficiaries (1995 to 2008).

The researchers found that the rate of prolonged opioid therapy for cancer patients diagnosed in 2008 was 7.1 percent prior to cancer diagnosis and rose to 9.8 percent within a year of cancer treatments and to 13.3 percent at five years after diagnosis. There was variance by cancer site for the rate of prolonged opioid therapy at the sixth year (19.4 percent for lung cancer and 9.6 percent for prostate cancer). The rate also increased among opioid-naive survivors (from 1.4 to 7.1 percent from 5 to 18 years after cancer diagnosis). There were higher rates of opioid prescribing for cancer survivors diagnosed in 2004 to 2008 versus those diagnosed in 1995 to 1998 and 1999 to 2003. Predictors of prolonged opioid therapy included years since diagnosis, a later year of diagnosis, female sex, urban location, lung cancer diagnosis, disability as reason for Medicare entitlement, Medicaid eligibility, at least one comorbidity, and history of depression or drug abuse.

“Our findings have potential to inform the development of clinical guidelines and public policy to ensure safer and more effective pain treatment in older cancer survivors,” the authors write.

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