In a study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, researchers found that the very tools they use to assess cancer pain may fall short.
Researchers asked 452 cancer pain sufferers to assess their pain on a scale according to intensity and frequency. They then compared those data to the way cancer pain sufferers described their pain to clinicians (the descriptions were recorded with their permission).
What they found was that cancer pain sufferers are a whole lot more likely to talk to their doctors about pain than they would in completing questionnaires.
“This result raises interesting questions about the use of commonly accepted pain scales and our reliance on them to identify patients experiencing distressing pain,” the researchers stated. “The Symptom Distress Scale and Pain Intensity Numeric Scale (PINS) may favor specificity over sensitivity, detecting patients who do not have pain better than identifying those who do. Clinically, this translates into potential missed opportunities to help patients who are experiencing relevant pain.”
“Our findings provide an important reminder that clinicians must remain attuned to relevant pain in patients with earlier stage disease, which may be a result of the effects of treatment or other etiologies,” the researchers added. “Future research should explore pain outcomes when lower PINS threshold scores and frequency screening questions are used in the ambulatory oncology setting.”
So, the message is that if you’ve completed a questionnaire related to assessing your cancer pain, it’s advised that you follow that with a conversation so that your treating clinician can fully understand exactly how you feel.