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Research Review

Race, Gender Disparities in Cancer Pain

The pain that can accompany cancer—both ongoing pain and short but sometimes violent bursts of pain—tends to be worse among nonwhites than among white patients, researchers from the University of Michigan Health System have found. The study appears in The Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

Researchers prospectively analyzed data from surveying 96 people with advanced cancer over six months. Nonwhite participants reported much more severe consistent pain and “breakthrough” pain-flares of moderate to severe pain than whites. Nonwhite participants also reported a higher incidence of pain interfering with general activity, mood, and walking ability.

“Our findings suggest the burden of cancer pain is unequal with nonwhite patients carrying a larger load,” says lead author Carmen R. Green, MD, director of the Pain Medicine Research, and an associate professor of the department of anesthesiology and health management and policy.

In measures of consistent pain at its least, nonwhites reported scores around 4.75 on a scale of zero to 10, with zero representing no pain and 10 representing pain at its most severe. Those numbers are similar to white respondents’ scores of consistent pain at its worst, suggesting a noteworthy gap between the two groups.

Breakthrough pain also was worse for nonwhites than whites. For instance, nonwhites reported average scores of about 4.5 for breakthrough pain at its least at the three-month time point in the study, compared with an average score of about 2.8 among whites. The gap in pain scores between nonwhites and whites tended to decrease over the course of the six-month study.

Among women in the study, breakthrough pain was found to be higher on average than for men, and women’s most recent pain flares also were stronger on average than men’s flares.

— Source: University of Michigan Health System