Perceptions of prescription opioid medication within the context of cancer survivorship and the opioid epidemic



Prescription opioid medication can be of great benefit for cancer patients and survivors who suffer from cancer-related pain throughout their cancer care trajectory. However, the current opioid epidemic has influenced how such medications are perceived. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of opioid use and misuse in cancer survivorship within the context of the opioid epidemic.


pt?>A qualitative study using a semi-structured interview was conducted with a purposive sample of health care professionals (n = 24), community-level stakeholders (n = 6), and cancer survivors (n = 25) using applied thematic analysis techniques.


Crosscutting themes include (1) fear of addiction and living with poorly managed pain, (2) the importance of good patient/provider communication and the need for education around the use/handling/disposal of prescription opioid medication, (3) preference for nonopioid alternatives for pain management, (4) cancer survivors perceived to be low risk for developing opioid use disorder (include inconsistent screening), and (5) impact of policies aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic on cancer survivors.


This study illustrates the intersecting and sometimes conflicting assumptions surrounding the use of opioids analgesics in the management of cancer pain among survivors embedded within the national discourse of the opioid epidemic.

Implications for Cancer Survivors

A system of integrated cancer care using psychosocial screening, opioid risk mitigation tools, opioid treatment agreements, and specialist expertise that cancer care providers can rely on to monitor POM use in conjunction with patient-centered communication to empower patients informed decision making in managing their cancer pain could address this critical gap in survivorship care.

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Special thanks to the members of our community advisory board, LUNA Inc., Faces of Courage, Dr. Cathy Meade, Dr. Clement Gwede, and the Tampa Bay Community Cancer Network.


This work was supported by the Geographic Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program (GMaP) Region 2 funded by the National Institutes of Health grant 3P30 CA076292–19.

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Correspondence to Dinorah Martinez Tyson.

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The study was approved by the (Blinded for Review) Scientific Review Committee and the (Blinded for Review) Institutional Review Board. Informed consent was obtained for all study participants.


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Tyson, D.M., Chavez, M.N., Lake, P. et al. Perceptions of prescription opioid medication within the context of cancer survivorship and the opioid epidemic. J Cancer Surviv (2021).

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  • Cancer survivorship; opioids
  • Pain management
  • Opioid epidemic