36% of cancer patients in Japan spend final months in pain: survey


About 36 percent of terminal cancer patients in Japan spent their last months in pain in 2016, according to a National Cancer Center survey.

The result highlights the need to improve palliative care, the center said Wednesday.

The questionnaire-based survey was conducted between February and March, covering 3,204 family members of cancer patients who died in 2016. Of them, 1,630 gave valid responses.

Of the total, 39 percent were spouses and 40 percent children. The average age of the patients when they died was 78.1.

Asked whether the cancer patients’ final months had been spent relatively pain-free, the respondents were given a choice of three positive and four negative answers.

Of them, 52 percent answered they “strongly believe so,” “believe so,” or “sort of believe so,” and 36 percent answered they “don’t believe so at all,” “don’t believe so,” “don’t very much believe so,” or “it’s difficult to say.” Twelve percent didn’t respond.

Those who recognized psychological pain in the patients accounted for 36 percent of the total.

Regarding the situation a week before their deaths, 64 percent said their cancer-suffering family members were in physical pain, including 28 percent who sensed strong pain.

Of the total, 42 percent answered that the nursing burden on families was heavy. The share of those who had experienced depression after the ordeal came to 17 percent.

The focus of palliative care is to keep patients comfortable, mainly through narcotics for medical use.

“We believe we can reduce the number of patients who suffer pain by improving palliative care,” said Masashi Kato, head of the center’s department for cancer treatment assistance.

Next year, the center will expand the size of the survey to cover some 50,000 people nationwide to include terminal patients who died of heart and cerebrovascular diseases, pneumonia and kidney failure.