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Cancer Health Center

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Educating Patients Can Lessen Cancer Pain


Some of the common misconceptions people have about pain medication is that it is addictive, that it doesn't work well, that they will be viewed as a bad or whiny patient, that it has uncontrollable side effects, and that focusing on pain will distract the physician from treating the cancer, Oliver says. And also, many patients simply don't know how to take pain medication properly.

"A lot of people ... wait until the pain gets bad, then it takes a long time for the medication to take effect," says Oliver. "Really, to get the best pain control, you need to take it around the clock."

Oliver and her colleagues recruited 67 cancer patients between the ages of 18 and 75 who were experiencing moderate pain. Half were assigned to receive standardized instructions on controlling pain. The other half were given a 20-minute individualized education and coaching session designed to dispel their personal misconceptions about treatment, increase knowledge of pain self-management, and rehearse an individual patient-physician dialogue about pain control.

After two weeks, the researchers collected information from each patient on average pain, functional impairment due to pain, pain frequency, and pain-related knowledge. Those patients who were tutored in pain control reported having significantly less average pain than the other group. They also tended to have improved functioning, less pain frequency, and slightly more pain knowledge.

"I think it is about empowerment through education," says Oliver. "It is sort of intangible, but what we gave people is a sense of control or understanding about pain and how to control it."

"I think the results are impressive in that they show that brief educational intervention can help patients to receive better pain management," says Anderson. "[Pain] is always treatable. Studies have estimated 90-95% of pain problems can be adequately treated with analgesic. For that small percentage of patients who don't get good relief, there are other alternatives available: implanted pumps or different kinds of surgery. Pain cannot always be totally eliminated, but typically it can be reduced to mild levels where patients can function and have a good quality of life."

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