Today’s post about cancer patients was written by Jennifer McGregor, who helped create Public Health Library, an ambitious undertaking that you should check out… Take it away, Jennifer:
Cancer patients have so much to deal with, from fear and depression, to illness and pain, that it can be overwhelming not only for themselves but for their family members as well.
One of the things that family members can do to ease some of the concerns about their loved ones with cancer is to be as informed as possible about the dangers of addiction that can arise with pain management. Being armed with knowledge puts everyone on the same page and makes everyone aware of the warning signs of addiction before it is too late.
Safe Pain Management is Possible
Of special concern is using opioids for pain management for cancer patients. Chronic pain may be severe enough to justify using opioids in 30-50% of patients undergoing active antineoplastic therapy and in 75-90% of patients with advanced disease. Yet, opioid users easily become addicted, and it often requires larger doses for the pain to abate in cancer patients. As a result, doctors often prescribe opioids for acute pain management for four to six weeks and then reduce the dosage and switch patients to other types of drugs.
Just because there is a chance of addiction does not mean that cancer patients should be denied medication to ease their pain. Safe pain management is possible, if families and patients work closely with medical professionals. With the proper dosing and monitoring, cancer patients can be made more comfortable without becoming addicted to pain medications. In fact, the risk for addiction in cancer patients who are under close medical supervision diminishes.
Working with Doctors to Prevent Addiction in Cancer Patients is a Must
Cancer patients and their loved ones should have a discussion with their doctors about their pain treatment plans. Asking questions and being informed will help ensure that everyone is comfortable with the treatment plan. This includes being honest with the doctor. If the cancer patient has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, or if the family has a history of addiction, the doctor needs to know. These factors may influence the doctor’s decision in the course of treatment, especially if he believes the risk of addiction is higher for certain cancer patients.
There are Common Warning Signs of Addiction
Of course, family members spend the most time with cancer patients, so you need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of addiction, especially to opioids. There are certain mood and psychological, behavioral, and physical signs and symptoms that everyone should be on the lookout for while their loved one is taking opioids. These include, but are not limited to, depression, irritability, anxiety attacks, improved alertness, increased heart rate, decreased appetite, increased energy, difficulty sleeping, and increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli.
There is a Greater Risk of Depression and Addiction in Cancer Patients
It is important to note that both addiction and cancer present a high risk of death, and when they occur together, the risks greatly increase. As people face a cancer diagnosis, they may turn to drugs and alcohol to escape their fear and their pain. If drugs and alcohol are used as a way to cope with the diagnosis, the patient easily becomes addicted.
People also often become depressed when they receive a cancer diagnosis, because they fear that it is a death sentence and that they will become a burden on their family. Depression often leads to addiction, as people turn to alcohol or drugs to numb their pain. Thus, the combination of depression and addiction is especially dangerous for cancer patients, who have easy access to opioids for their pain management.
Cancer Patients Have a Higher Risk of Committing Suicide
Family members of cancer patients need to recognize the fact that suicide rates in cancer patients may be two to ten times higher than among people who do not have cancer. The risk is at its highest in the first few months after diagnosis.
Unfortunately, many cancer patients who have suicidal thoughts overdose with their pain medication. These patients may or may not be addicted to the medication, but those who are addicted have difficulty making rational decisions and are at a higher risk of committing suicide than those cancer patients who are not addicts.
Cancer patients need the support of their family members and doctors for a number of reasons, but it is especially important for family members to be aware of the risk of depression, addiction, and suicide for their loved ones with cancer. Knowing the five important factors we outline is a good step toward helping your loved one cope with the cancer diagnosis and continue forward in a safe and positive way.
Jennifer McGregor has wanted to be a doctor since she was little. Now, as a pre-med student, she’s well on her way to achieving that dream.
She helped create PublicHealthLibrary.org with a friend as part of a class project. With it, she hopes to provide access to trustworthy health and medical resources. When Jennifer isn’t working on the site, you can usually find her hitting the books in the campus library or spending some downtime with her dog at the local park.
Leaving you with a lighthearted song to take the edge off today’s serious message: The Young) Rascals doing “A Beautiful Morning”:
Thank you for singing along…That’s it for today.