Colorectal Cancer Coverage from Every Angle

Chronic Opioid Use in Older Colorectal Cancer Survivors

By: Anna Nowogrodzki
Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Colorectal cancer survivors aged 66 years and older seem to be more likely to engage in chronic opioid use than matched non-cancer controls in years 1 to 3 after diagnosis, but the effect tends to disappear in years 4 to 6 after diagnosis, according to a new study. The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by Talya Salz, PhD, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and colleagues.

“The trend of diminishing chronic opioid use over time since cancer diagnosis is reassuring, especially considering the risks older survivors face,” stated the investigators. “However, future analyses may reveal more risk for chronic opioid use among subpopulations receiving different treatments.” 

The study included 13,101 colorectal cancer survivors and 38,608 matched non-cancer control subjects drawn from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry and Medicare. Cancer survivors were 66 years or older at diagnosis and did not engage in chronic opioid use in the year before diagnosis. Each survivor was matched with three non-cancer control subjects by age, sex, race, Charlson comorbidity index score (excluding cancer), and geographic region. Patients with cancer were not included if they were enrolled in end-of-life hospice care, when opioids are likely to be necessary for palliative reasons.

Each year from 1 to 6 years after diagnosis, the researchers compared cancer survivors and control subjects for chronic opioid use, defined as 90 or more continuous days of opioid use. Colorectal cancer survivors were more likely than controls to engage in chronic opioid use in years 1, 2, and 3 after diagnosis. In years 4 to 6 after diagnosis, however, there was no difference. Because the study included only patients aged 66 and older, the authors suggest further study in other groups of patients with cancer.

Disclosure: The study authors’ disclosure information may be found at

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