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J Clin Oncol. 2011 Dec 20;29(36):4769-75. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2011.35.0561. Epub 2011 Nov 14.

Medical oncologists' attitudes and practice in cancer pain management: a national survey.

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  • 1Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, NY 10003, USA. bbreuer@chpnet.org



To evaluate the attitudes, knowledge, and practices of US medical oncologists that are related to management of cancer pain.


An anonymous survey was mailed to a geographically representative sample of medical oncologists randomly selected from the American Medical Association's Physician Master File.


From a total of 2,000 oncologists, 354 responded to the original questionnaire and 256 responded to one of two subsequent shortened versions (overall response rate, 32%). Responders were demographically similar to all US medical oncologists. Using numeric rating scales of 0 to 10, oncologists rated their specialty highly for the ability to manage cancer pain (median, 7; interquartile range [IQR], 6 to 8) but rated their peers as more conservative prescribers than themselves (median, 3; IQR, 2 to 5). The quality of pain management training during medical school and residency was rated as 3 (IQR, 1 to 5) and 5 (IQR, 3 to 7), respectively. The most important barriers to pain management were poor assessment (median, 6; IQR, 4 to 7) and patient reluctance to take opioids (median, 6; IQR, 5 to 7) or report pain (median, 6; IQR, 4 to 7). Other barriers included physician reluctance to prescribe opioids (median, 5; IQR, 3 to 7) and perceived excessive regulation (median, 4; IQR, 2 to 7). In response to two vignettes describing challenging clinical scenarios, 60% and 87%, respectively, endorsed treatment decisions that would be considered unacceptable by pain specialists. Frequent referrals to pain or palliative care specialists were reported by only 14% and 16%, respectively.


These data suggest that, for more than 20 years, a focus on cancer pain has not adequately addressed the perception of treatment barriers or limitations in pain-related knowledge and practice within the oncology community. Additional efforts are needed to achieve meaningful progress.

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