Raising Awareness on Breakthrough Cancer Pain

Pain is one of the most common but misunderstood and feared symptoms of cancer. According to published data, as many as two-thirds of people with cancer-related pain also experience episodes of breakthrough cancer pain (BCP). BCP is varied; the most common type is a flare of the background pain, which may occur without warning and typically has a fast onset with a duration of less than 30 minutes. BCP is often triggered by a specific activity or movement. It may result from walking, dressing, changing positions, or even simpler events, such as coughing or sneezing. Most patients with BCP have several episodes each day. Compared with patients who do not have BCP, those that do have more severe pain overall, more pain-related distress, and poorer functioning. “BCP leaves many cancer patients fearful of the next episode,” says Russell K. Portenoy, MD. “It unduly burdens patients and their families.” New Survey Data A recent survey commissioned by the American Pain Foundation (APF) and conducted online by Harris Interactive explored the impact BCP has on patient quality of life, medical treatment, and finances among adults diagnosed with cancer, living with cancer-related pain, taking medication to manage their pain, and experiencing sudden, temporary pain flares (Table 1). “Although the APF survey was internet-based and not epidemiological, it serves a good purpose in that it provides a snapshot of the problem in an affected subgroup,” explains Dr. Portenoy. “A key finding was that BCP can be highly significant and is associated with many adverse effects on quality of life. As cancer is becoming more treatable, clinicians must recognize the importance of improving quality...