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Update on Prevalence of Pain in Patients with Cancer: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Marieke H.J. van den Beuken-van Everdingen, Laura M.J. Hochstenbach, Bert E.A.J. Joosten, Vivianne C.G. Tjan-Heijnen, Daisy J.A. Janssen

Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, Volume 51, Issue 6, June 2016, Pages 1070–1090.e9



Cancer pain has a severe impact on quality of life and is associated with numerous psychosocial responses. Recent studies suggest that treatment of cancer pain has improved during the last decade.


The aim of this review was to examine the present status of pain prevalence and pain severity in patients with cancer.


A systematic search of the literature published between September 2005 and January 2014 was performed using the databases PubMed, Medline, Embase, CINAHL, and Cochrane. Articles in English or Dutch that reported on the prevalence of cancer pain in an adult population were included. Titles and abstracts were screened by two authors independently, after which full texts were evaluated and assessed on methodological quality. Study details and pain characteristics were extracted from the articles with adequate study quality. Prevalence rates were pooled with meta-analysis; meta-regression was performed to explore determinants of pain prevalence.


Of 4117 titles, 122 studies were selected for the meta-analyses on pain (117 studies, n = 63,533) and pain severity (52 studies, n = 32,261). Pain prevalence rates were 39.3% after curative treatment; 55.0% during anticancer treatment; and 66.4% in advanced, metastatic, or terminal disease. Moderate to severe pain (numerical rating scale score ≥5) was reported by 38.0% of all patients.


Despite increased attention on assessment and management, pain continues to be a prevalent symptom in patients with cancer. In the upcoming decade, we need to overcome barriers toward effective pain treatment and develop and implement interventions to optimally manage pain in patients with cancer.

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