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Researchers who analysed past studies of cancer-related pain reduction have found that psychosocial interventions can have a beneficial effect on cancer patients' pain severity.

Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Centre, who teamed with colleagues at five universities around the United States, also found that certain psychosocial interventions provide better pain management and are effective in reducing the degree to which pain related to cancer and its treatment interferes with patients' lives.         

"Pain is one of the most common, burdensome and feared symptoms experienced by patients with cancer," said Paul B. Jacobsen, Ph.D., associate centre director for Moffitt''s Division of Population Science.

"Our study looked at randomised, controlled studies of psychosocial interventions for pain published between 1966 and 2010 in which pain was measured as an outcome in adults with cancer, or in adults undergoing procedures to diagnose cancer," he explained.

According to the researchers, cancer-related pain can arise for a variety of reasons, including direct tumor involvement, metastasis to bone or organs, treatment toxicity and diagnostic procedures. Moderate to severe pain - suffered by up to one-third of cancer patients - often interferes with sleep, daily activities, enjoyment of life, and work and social interactions.

When 37 past studies were analysed to assess the effects of psychosocial interventions on patient pain, the researchers found that the most successful psychosocial, non-pharmacological pain interventions were either skill-based interventions or educational. 

Skill-based interventions focused on changes in the ways in which patients interpret pain, while educational approaches provided instruction on how to better use medications or helped patients more effectively communicate with clinicians about their unrelieved pain.

The researchers concluded that psychosocial interventions worked equally well in reducing pain across patient demographic characteristics, such as sex and racial/ethnic subgroups.

However, because the majority of the available patient data was on white females, the researchers recommend further study to determine if the same interventions could better manage pain across different subgroups of patients with cancer and in different treatment settings - a strategy also suggested by the IOM. "In short, we found that psychosocial interventions, including skills instruction and education could improve cancer pain management," concluded Jacobsen. Their analysis was published in a recent online issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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