More than 1 million people from 180 countries are registered users of the NCCN Guidelines, and almost half of these are global users. The NCCN Frameworks for Resource Stratification of NCCN Guidelines (NCCN Frameworks) for Adult Cancer Pain and Palliative Care are designed to help expand patient access to pain management and palliative care globally and to improve care in low-resource settings.
NCCN Guidelines document evidence-based, consensus-driven management to ensure that all patients receive optimal preventive, diagnostic services, and treatments that improve outcomes, explained Robert A. Swarm, MD, Professor of Anesthesiology, Washington University, and Chair of the NCCN Guidelines for Adult Cancer Pain, but not all countries have equal access to resources, and even within a high-resource utilization country like the United States there are pockets of low-resource utilization.
The United States has the highest costs associated with resource use, exceeding $10,000 per patient per year. The United States also has high opioid consumption, which has increased over the past 20 years. “But vast numbers of patients with cancer throughout the world have little access to opioids,” Dr. Swarm told the audience at the NCCN 23rd Annual Conference.
In October 2017, the Lancet Commission on Global Access to Palliative Care and Pain Relief showed that 90% of morphine is distributed to 10% of the world, and 1% was distributed to 50% of the world's population living in the poorest countries (3.6 billion people).1 “The uneven distribution of morphine has not gone unnoticed,” Dr. Swarm stated.
The American Cancer Society's Treat the Pain program documents the number of treated deaths in pain and the number of untreated deaths in pain.2 There are large areas of the world where opioids are unavailable. For example, if India devoted 100% of the available opioids to the end of life, they still would not have enough resources to treat pain.
Worldwide, at least 2.3 million people died of HIV or cancer in untreated pain in 2013.2 In 2016, more than 63,000 drug-related deaths occurred in the United States,3 which is more than the number of US soldiers killed in Vietnam between 1955 and 1975, he said.
In low-resource countries such as India, morphine is primarily available for palliative care but is used by few doctors. Bureaucratic hurdles are significant, including depletion of supplies and frequent breaks in supplies. There are social, cultural, and infrastructural problems, as well as staffing shortages in low-resource countries. “Symptom control is not a focus of care,” Dr. Swarm stated.
Even though access to opioids is limited in low-resource countries, it should be increased cautiously, with close marketing of supplies and strict conflict of interest policies in place for all phases of distribution and protocol development. Implementation of evidence-based treatment protocols is essential.
“Avoid overreliance on opioids. Use the NCCN Guidelines for Adult Cancer Pain,” he noted. “Access to opioids is a surrogate for availability of cancer pain management, but there is a lot more to cancer pain management than access to opioids. Other strategies include psychological counseling, stress management, and integrative interventions,” Dr. Swarm continued.
Global translation of the NCCN Guidelines entails evidence-based adaptations developed with local professional organizations and reviewed by international experts working regularly in low- and middle-resource clinical settings.
Resource-integrated adaptations of the NCCN Guidelines reflect the fluidity of resource availability, the ability to pay, rationing, uneven resource distribution, and unstable supply. The NCCN Framework attempts to address that need using a rational approach for constructing cancer management systems to provide the highest achievable level of care for every patient.
The NCCN Frameworks use 3 text colors to signify treatment recommendations applicable to each level of resource availability, Dr. Swarm explained. Black text signifies “include at that level”; gray text means “withhold at that level”; and italicized blue text means “a modified recommendation for that level.” To demonstrate this, Dr. Swarm showed a page of the NCCN Guidelines for Adult Cancer Pain (Figure 1).
“Today, 80% of all cancers are covered by the NCCN Framework,” Dr. Swarm said.
Knaul FM, Farmer PE, Krakauer EL et al.. Alleviating the access abyss in palliative care relief—an imperative of universal health coverage: the Lancet Commission report. Lancet 2018;391:1391–1454.
American Cancer Society. Access to essential pain medicines brief (2013 data). Available at: http://treatthepain.org/Assets/ACCESS%20TO%20ESSENTIAL%20PAIN%20MEDICINES%20BRIEF.pdf. Accessed April 4, 2018.
Hedegaard H, Warner M, Minino AM. Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999–2016. National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease control and Prevention. Available at: www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db294.html. Accessed April 3, 2018.
WHO Model Lists of Essential Medicines. World Health Organization Web site. Available at: (http://www.who.int/medicines/publications/essentialmedicines/en/. Accessed April 3, 2018.