Cancer Pain and Non-Cancer Pain are Equivalent

The fabricated distinction between cancer pain and non-cancer pain is often used to argue that opioids are only effective for the first, but not effective for all other chronic pain.

This never made sense to me, so I researched it trying to find the basis for the much-hyped difference between the two and discovered this distinction is a complete myth. 

Below are 4 previous posts covering scientific articles (including NIH/PMC and Cochrane reviews) questioning the legitimacy of regulating and restricting the treatment of non-cancer pain differently than cancer pain.

Cancer vs Noncancer Pain: Shed the Distinction   

Cancer vs Noncancer Pain: Time to Shed the Distinction?Medscape – July 2013

  • We should address these concerns in a universal way, so that we are treating individuals and not categories, such as “cancer” or “noncancer,” that have no solid foundation or evidence base for being separate categories.

NO DIFFERENCE between cancer and non-cancer pain

Terminology of chronic pain: the need to “level the playing field” – Free full-text /PMC4734783/ from PubMed/NIH –  Jan 2016 – John F Peppin and Michael E Schatman

  • “Chronic cancer pain” and “chronic noncancer pain” are replete in the literature; however, the distinction here is actually obscure. 
  • A patient with pain from a cancer etiology has no different physiology than a patient with pain of noncancer etiologies.  
  • Interestingly, these claims are primarily philosophical, rather than medical or physiologic.
  • As mentioned, pain mechanisms do not discriminate between cancer and noncancer pathophysiology.
  • Interestingly, the data on the use of opioids in cancer patients suffer from the same criticism, lack of long-term data, and lack of data demonstrating increased functionality

Chronic Cancer versus Non-Cancer Pain 

Chronic Cancer versus Non-Cancer Pain: A Distinction without a Difference? | GeriPal – Geriatrics and Palliative Care BlogMarch 2016 – by Eric Widera, MD (@ewidera)

  • distinction between two two things that ultimately cannot be explained or defended in a meaningful way. 
  • very little evidence to support a difference between these two broad categories
  • Patients with cancer or those without cancer have essentially identical pain-generating physiologies, and thus the same mechanisms for the development of their pain (eg, inflammatory pain in a cancer patient will be the same physiological process as in a noncancer patient).

Little evidence that opioids work for cancer pain 

Opioids for cancer pain – an overview of Cochrane reviews. July 2017

  • 152 included studies and 13,524 participants:
  • Pain outcomes reported were varied and inconsistent.
  • quality of evidence around the use of opioids for treating cancer pain is disappointingly low,


4 thoughts on “Cancer Pain and Non-Cancer Pain are Equivalent

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      Congratulations – what a find! Palliative care is exactly what we need when there’s no hope for a cure. Considering that defective tissues will only continue falling apart as we age, it seems medically appropriate to be receiving “comfort care” to keep us from suffering increasing pain over our lifespan.


  1. Kathy C

    Plenty of journalists, policy makers, and content marketers, are still plying the myth, that cancer pain is somehow different that other types of pain. No one spoke up when this nonsense and misinformation was circulated, and the CDC guidelines repeated that myth. Even cancer patients were hurt by the guidelines, and misreported science, promoted by our media, and medical advertising/entertainment marketers.

    In the meantime the “unintended consequences” continue. Here is another result of the misinformation, The news media, enforcement agencies, and health providers, mislead the public about this too. They are still going after patients and physicians, while ignoring serious issues, that are occurring with the illegal drug trade. They still don;t make a distinction between prescription medications, and illegal concoctions cooked up by the illegal drug trade.

    Repeating the lies, propaganda, and misinformation, obscured the rates of AIDS and Hepatitis transmission, and misled the public about infections, contaminates, and dangerous compounds in the illegal drugs. They also lied about the repeated hospital admissions, by people who are addicted, and exposed to these contaminates and toxic compounds. One again, no agency that was supposed to be protecting the public, tracked or identified any of this. 22 years out and they are still protecting the industries, and marketing apparatus, that helped fuel all of this ignorance.

    I have been watching that E Cig hearing. It is really astounding that this industry was allowed to target teenagers, on social media, and no one paid attention. The FDA and FTC did not even recognize their deceptive marketing campaign. The corporation even set up educational programs, and lied about research, not much different from other industries that are effecting our health. They took a page from the alternative health marketers, anti vaxxers, and pain industry marketers. The politicians claimed that they would not want their children, educated by a corporation that was not only exploiting them, but gathering children’s data, to tailor their marketing.

    These very same politicians had no problems encouraging big corporations to market to their children, while collecting their data, to educate them on opioids. They promoted Facebook “Opioid Summits” and Walmart, Walgreens and CVS, all corporations fined already for their opioid sales, to market directly to children. As long as the corporation makes it appear they are promoting wellness or health, they can make any claims they like, and gather health related data from children, vulnerable old people and the sick.

    Health Outcomes, and rates of suicides, addictions and deaths of despair are going up, as corporations are allowed to educate us, and most people are unable to determine the difference between legitimate health information and marketing. The US used to have laws and regulations protecting the vulnerable form fraudulent and deceptive health marketing, now they can’t even recognize a social media marketing campaign, directed at teens, to promote smoking. The marketing campaign was allowed to proliferate for more than 4 years, before a few parents noticed it. The FDA, FTC and CDC failed once again to protect our health, or the health of children. These agencies have been so corrupted, strategically underfunded and undermined they no longer function, in any meaningful way.

    Liked by 1 person


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