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Treatment for Severe Cancer Pain: Women Versus Men

Are men and women with severe cancer pain treated in the same way?

Although both sexes reported the same level of worst pain in a past week, men were more likely to have a prescription for high-potency pain medicine and receive higher doses of morphine.

Women being first evaluated at a cancer pain clinic reported more pain “right now” and higher average pain during the past week.  However, a review of their medical charts showed they were getting  less morphine and had higher average pain scores than men.  They were more likely to say that their pain was poorly controlled.

Men’s records from their primary oncologist showed an average daily dose of opiate of 130 milligrams, while women were getting 66 milligrams each day.  In addition, only 33 percent of women had a prescription for high potency pain medicine compared to 51 percent of men.

Writing in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Kristin A. Donovan PhD, and her team at the Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, concluded,

Females were significantly less likely to have been prescribed high potency opioids by their primary oncology team and significantly more likely to report inadequate pain management as measured by Pain Management Index scores. These results suggest a sex bias in the treatment of cancer pain and support the routine examination of the effect of sex in cancer pain research.

SOURCE: Donovan et al., Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Volume 36, Number 2, August 2008.

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