Conference Coverage

Women struggle with benzodiazepine addiction post chemotherapy treatment



SAN ANTONIO – Sedative-hypnotic medications, such as benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics commonly used to treat chemotherapy-related nausea, anxiety, and insomnia in women being treated for breast cancer, put women at high risk of dependency after chemotherapy treatment, shows a new study.

While benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics are effective for these indications, misuse and increased health care utilization can ensue from their prolonged use, said Jacob C. Cogan, MD, a fellow in oncology/hematology at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, Columbia University, New York. Dr. Cogan recently presented the results of the study at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

The study included patients with breast cancer who received adjuvant chemotherapy between 2008 and 2017. Prescriptions for sedatives were divided into three periods: 365 days prior to chemotherapy to the start of chemotherapy (period one); start of chemotherapy to 90 days after the end of chemotherapy (period two); and 90-365 days after chemotherapy (period three). Patients who filled at least one benzodiazepine prescription in period two and patients who filled at least two benzodiazepine in period three were classified as new persistent benzodiazepine users. The same definitions were then used for nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics.

Among 17,532 benzodiazepine-naive patients (mean age, 57 years) and 21,863 nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic drug–naive patients (mean age, 56 years) who received adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer, lumpectomies were performed for a small majority (56.6% benzodiazepine naive, 55.1% nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics naive) versus mastectomy, and about half of patients received less than 4 months of chemotherapy (48.0% benzodiazepine naive, 48.6% nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics naive). Among benzodiazepine-naive patients, 4,447 (25.4%) filled at least one benzodiazepine prescription during chemotherapy, and 2,160 (9.9%) filled at least one nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotic prescription during chemotherapy. The rate of new persistent benzodiazepine use after initial exposure during chemotherapy was 26.8% (n = 1,192). Similarly, 33.8% (n = 730) of nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics users became new persistent users. In addition, 115 patients became new persistent users of both types of sedative-hypnotics.

New persistent benzodiazepine use was associated with several characteristics: age 50-65 (odds ratio, 1.23; P = .01) and age greater than 65 (OR, 1.38, P = .005) relative to age less than 49; as well as Medicaid insurance, relative to commercial and Medicare insurance (OR, 1.68; P < .0001). Both new persistent benzodiazepine and nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics use was associated with chemotherapy duration of less than 4 months relative to 4 or more months of chemotherapy (OR, 1.17; P = .03 for benzodiazepines; OR, 1.58; P < .0001 for nonbenzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics).

It is not clear why shorter chemotherapy duration is associated with more new persistent use, Dr. Cogan said. “It may be that, paradoxically, a shorter duration of treatment could lead to more anxiety about recurrence. These patients may need closer monitoring of mental health symptoms and earlier referral for psychological services.”

Dr. Cogan said that providers should take steps to ensure that benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepine sedatives are used appropriately, which includes tapering dosages and, when appropriate, encouraging nonpharmacologic strategies.

There were no funding or other conflicts of interest associated with this study.

Recommended Reading

Antibiotic and glucocorticoid use before cancer therapy could have detrimental effect on outcomes
Exercise reduces arm and shoulder problems after breast cancer surgery
Risk for breast cancer recurrence persists past 30 years
What’s hot at the world’s premiere breast cancer meeting
Genomic profiling can improve PFS in metastatic breast cancer