Cancer Pain Can Be Treated: New Patient Guidelines Help Patients and Physicians Discuss Options

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Researcher Helped Write Guidelines

SEATTLE — Apr. 3, 2001 — About one-third of the cancer patients in the U.S. suffer from significant pain. This number rises above two-thirds when cancer is advanced. Pain can affect a patient in many ways. It can cause a reduction in activity, prevent sleep, add to fatigue, reduce interest in socializing, and inhibit eating. Pain can also make a patient feel afraid and depressed.

Today, a new resource was made available to help cancer patients work more effectively with their doctors to make informed decisions about their available pain treatment options. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), of which Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a member institution and the American Cancer Society (ACS) announced the availability of their first supportive care patient guideline, Cancer Pain Treatment Guidelines for Patients.

"Patients have a right to pain assessment and appropriate treatment. These guidelines will facilitate the process of informed decision-making by patients in collaboration with physicians and help assure that patients achieve the best possible pain relief," said Dr. Karen Syrjala, director of Biobehavioral Sciences. " Most pain can be substantially reduced or eliminated and patients can be made more comfortable during their battles with cancer. We've proven that with our research. But good relief of pain takes the active participation of patients in their pain treatment. A few simple communication tools can make all the difference in how well pain is treated.

"Under treatment of pain is a significant public health problem in our country. The NCCN/ACS patient pain guidelines will give cancer patients and their families solid understanding and reasonable expectations to make them informed partners with their physicians in managing pain and preserving a good quality of life.

"Misperceptions about the likelihood of drug addiction and abuse among cancer patients have resulted in avoidance of appropriate pain control by some patients. "Reactions to recent disturbing media coverage of drug addicts and painkiller abuse may ironically interfere with important efforts to appropriately manage cancer patients' pain," said Syrjala. "In fact, when pain medicines are given and taken appropriately, patients rarely become addicted to them."

The patient guidelines are the result of a collaborative effort between NCCN and ACS and are derived directly from the professional oncology practice guidelines developed for physicians by the NCCN. Dr. Syrjala was a member of the committee that developed these guidelines. The patient guidelines also provide background information on cancer pain, its causes, various treatment options and a glossary of terms.

"The NCCN/ACS Cancer Pain Treatment Guidelines for Patients is one of a series developed by the NCCN/ACS partnership. At this time, the NCCN/ACS patient guideline series includes breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon and rectal cancers. NCCN provides these guidelines in plain, understandable language for patients and their families," said Dr. Lee Hartwell, president and director of the Hutchinson Center. "NCCN intends to develop patient guidelines for the ten most frequently occurring cancers and the major supportive care areas." Upcoming patient guidelines include lung cancer, ovarian cancer, myeloma, non-melanoma skin cancer, nausea and vomiting, and cancer-related fatigue. The publications are also being translated into Spanish.

To order a free copy of NCCN/ACS Cancer Pain Treatment Guidelines for Patients or any of the other NCCN patient guidelines, call The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (888-909-NCCN) or The American Cancer Society (800-ACS-2345). Requests by e-mail may be made to

Media Note
Dr. Syrjala is available for interviews. Please call Susan Edmonds at the Hutchinson Center at (206) 667-2896 to schedule an interview.

Media Contact
Susan Edmonds
(206) 667-2896

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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home of three Nobel laureates, is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. Fred Hutchinson, in collaboration with its clinical and research partners, UW Medicine and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 40 nationwide. For more information, visit the center's website at