Opioid Prescribing Trends in Women Following Mastectomy or Breast-Conserving Surgery Before and After the 2014 Federal Reclassification of Hydrocodone

Oncologist. 2020 Apr;25(4):281-289. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2019-0758. Epub 2019 Dec 8.


Background: Given concerns about suboptimal pain management for actively treated cancer patients following the 2014 federal reclassification of hydrocodone, we examined changes in patterns of opioid prescribing among surgical breast cancer patients.

Materials and methods: Data from a large nationally representative commercial health insurance program from 2009 to 2017 were used to identify women aged 18 years and older who were diagnosed with carcinoma in-situ or malignant breast cancer and received breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy from 2010 to 2016. Generalized linear mixed models were used to estimate the adjusted odds ratio (aOR) for receipt of ≥1-day, >30-day, or ≥ 90-day supply of opioids in the 12 months following surgery adjusting for demographics, cancer treatment-related characteristics, and preoperative opioid use.

Results: A total of 60,080 patients were included in the study. Surgically treated breast cancer patients in 2015 (aOR = 0.90, 0.84-0.97) and 2016 (aOR = 0.80, 0.74-0.86) were less likely to receive ≥1-day supply of opioid prescriptions when compared with patients in 2013. Patients who had surgery in 2015 (aOR = 0.89, 0.81-0.98) and 2016 (aOR = 0.80, 0.73-0.87) were also less likely to receive >30-day supply of prescription opioids in the 12 months following surgery. However, only surgical breast cancer patients in 2016 were less likely to receive ≥90-day supply (aOR = 0.86, 0.76-0.98).

Conclusion: Surgically treated breast cancer patients are less likely to receive short- and long-term opioid prescriptions following the implementation of hydrocodone rescheduling. Further studies on the potential impact of federal policy on cancer patient pain management are needed.

Implications for practice: Clinicians and researchers with diverse perspectives should be included as stakeholders during policy development for restricting opioid prescriptions. Stakeholders can identify potential unintended consequences early and help identify methods to mitigate concerns, specifically as it relates to policy that influences how providers manage pain for actively treated cancer patients. This work shows how federal policy may have led to declines in opioid prescribing for breast cancer patients who underwent mastectomy or breast-conserving surgery.

Keywords: Breast neoplasms; Hydrocodone; Mastectomy; Policy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid* / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Breast Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocodone / therapeutic use
  • Mastectomy
  • Mastectomy, Segmental
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Hydrocodone