Background: This study estimates prevalence, management, and relief of pain during the last 3 months of life of a representative sample of dying cancer patients in Italy.
Patients and methods: This is a mortality follow-back survey (the Italian Survey of the Dying of Cancer). Caregivers were interviewed, after the patient's death, about pain experienced by the patients in all settings of care.
Results: According to caregivers' reports, 82.3% [95% confidence interval (CI) 79.9% to 84.4%] patients experienced pain, and 61.0% (95% CI 57.9% to 64.0%) very distressing pain. The younger population experienced a higher prevalence of pain in respect to older patients (P < 0.01). Patients with tumors of the central nervous system experienced the lowest prevalence (51.9%). According to caregivers' reports, only 59.5% (95% CI 3.7% to 65.0%) received analgesic treatment with opioids for moderate to severe pain. Not surprisingly, pain was 'only partially relieved' or 'not relieved at all' in 54% of the patients with very distressing pain.
Conclusions: Although potentially slightly biased, the results from this survey regarding undermedication and poor treatment results for cancer related pain are unequivocal. The research agenda should focus on testing the effectiveness of interventions to improve the quality of pain assessment and management.