A recent study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that female cancer patients get significantly less adequate relief of their pain than do men in a similar position. Via Reuters (and Medscape, free registration):
The researchers examined pain severity and the adequacy of pain management in 131 cancer patients newly referred to a multidisciplinary cancer pain clinic.Contrary to my usual practice, I haven't tracked down the original study. So I can't speak to its strength and weaknesses. It definitely dovetails with an existing body of work that shows race and class affect patients' access to adequate pain relief.
Men and women did not differ significantly in terms of worst pain scores, least pain scores, or pain interference. However, average pain in the last week and "pain right now" were significantly higher in females (p<0.05).
The mean total daily dose of analgesics was significantly greater for males (130 mg morphine equivalent value) than for females (66 mg). Females were significantly less likely than males to receive prescriptions for high potency opioids (32.9% vs 51.0%).
Women were significantly more likely than men to report inadequate pain control, as indicated by scores on the Pain Management Index.
In any event, the gender-linked differences in dosages and the percentages of patients getting the strong stuff are striking. When you consider that women 1) seek medical assistance more often than men, and 2) have the reputation of being less stoic than men (never mind what we endure in giving birth!) you'd expect women would be more likely to request and receive the most potent pain relievers. Why is the opposite true?
If you can think of a reason more plausible than sexism, let me know.