Regional and temporal variation in receipt of long-term opioid therapy among older breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancer survivors in the United States

Cancer Med. 2021 Mar;10(5):1550-1561. doi: 10.1002/cam4.3709. Epub 2021 Jan 9.


Background: Older cancer survivors have high rates of long-term opioid therapy (≥90 days/year). However, the geographical and temporal variation in long-term opioid therapy rates for older cancer survivors is not known.

Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted using SEER-Medicare data. Persons aged ≥66 years, diagnosed with breast, colorectal, lung, or prostate cancer from 1991 to 2011, and alive ≥5 years after diagnosis were included. Persons were followed from 1/1/2008 until 12/31/2016. Persons were assigned to a census region in their state of residence each year. Individuals who were covered by an opioid prescription for at least 90 days in a calendar year were classified as having received long-term opioid therapy. Multivariable analysis was conducted using generalized estimating equations.

Results: Temporal trends significantly varied by region (p < 0.0001) and opioid-naïve status (p < 0.0001). Compared to 2013, opioid-naïve cancer survivors in the south and non-naïve survivors in the south and west experienced significant declines in long-term opioid therapy in 2015 and 2016. Significant declines were observed in 2016 for opioid-naïve and non-naïve cancer survivors residing in the northeast and among opioid-naïve cancer survivors living in the Midwest.

Conclusion: The annual trends in the receipt of long-term opioid therapy significantly varied by region among older cancer survivors. Variation in a clinical practice suggests the need for more research and interventions to improve efficiency, process, cost, and quality of care.

Keywords: analgesics; drug utilization; neoplasms; opioid; policy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.