Long-term opioid use in patients treated with head and neck intensity-modulated radiotherapy

Lucian Zhao, Dominic Moon, Vladimir Avkshtol, Caitlin H. Siropaides, Stephanie Terauchi, Andrew Day, Baran D. Sumer, Randall S Hughes, David J. Sher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Purpose: Acute and chronic pain during and after radiotherapy is an important driver of poor quality of life. We aimed to identify risk factors associated with increased chronic opioid use in head and neck squamous cell cancer survivors. Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort analysis on head and neck squamous cell cancer patients treated with definitive or adjuvant intensity-modulated radiotherapy. We tracked their oncologic opioid prescription profile from initial presentation to the last follow-up date. We determined the incidences of 1- and 2-year opioid use and performed multivariate logistic regression for both outcomes. Results: Our analytic cohort consisted of 403 head and neck squamous cell cancer survivors. The numbers of patients requiring opioids at 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year after treatment were 316 (78%), 203 (50%), and 102 (25%), respectively. On multivariate logistic regression, positive smoking history (95% CI 1.86 [1.03, 3.43], p = 0.04), unemployment (95% CI 2.33 [1.16, 4.67], p = 0.02), prior psychiatric illness (95% CI 2.15 [1.05, 4.40], p = 0.03), and opiate use before radiotherapy (95% CI 2.75 [1.49, 5.20], p = 0.01) were independently associated with significantly greater odds of opioid use at 1 year. Conclusions: Our institutional analysis has shown that a substantial amount of head and neck cancer survivors are chronically dependent on opioids following radiotherapy. We have identified a cohort at highest risk for long-term use, for whom early interventions should be targeted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Chronic pain
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy
  • Symptom management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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