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Chemical coping versus pseudoaddiction in patients with cancer pain

  • Jung Hye Kwon (a1) (a2), Kimberson Tanco (a2), David Hui (a2), Akhila Reddy (a2) and Eduardo Bruera (a2)...



The purpose of this case series was to describe patients with aberrant drug-related behaviors and similar patterns of dose escalation in whom interdisciplinary assessment revealed different bases for their dose increases.


During the period from December 26 to December 30, 2011, the medical records of two patients with opioid-related aberrant behaviors were reviewed.


We described two patients with a significant cancer history and different comorbidities who presented with different aberrant drug-related behaviors and opioid requirements.

Significance of Results:

Opioid-related aberrant behaviors can be interpreted in different ways, and two of the more common syndromes in cancer patients are chemical coping and pseudoaddiction. In advanced cancer patients, the boundaries between these conditions are not as clear, and diagnosis is often made retrospectively. Furthermore, there have been relatively limited studies describing these two syndromes. Thus, they continue to pose a diagnostic and treatment challenge that requires different approaches for effective management of symptoms. The key characteristic between the two syndromes is that the behaviors displayed in chemical coping are motivated by obtaining opioids to relieve psychosocial distress, while in pseudoaddiction these behaviors are motivated by uncontrolled nociceptive input. Close monitoring of the pain syndromes, aberrant behaviors, and opioid requirements over several visits is usually necessary to distinguish the two syndromes.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kimberson Tanco, Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitation, Medicine, Unit 1414, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, Texas77030. E-mail:


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Chemical coping versus pseudoaddiction in patients with cancer pain

  • Jung Hye Kwon (a1) (a2), Kimberson Tanco (a2), David Hui (a2), Akhila Reddy (a2) and Eduardo Bruera (a2)...


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