Missed Opportunities: A Mixed-Methods Analysis of CAM Discussions and Practices in the Management of Pain in Oncology

Aaron L. Leppin, Cara Fernandez, Jon C. Tilburt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Context Treatment of pain in cancer is a clinical priority. Many cancer patients seek and use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. Objectives The aim of this study was to describe the role CAM plays in oncology, clinicians' approaches to pain management and its alignment with patient preference and self-care. Methods We used quantitative criteria to identify patients with high, self-reported pain and reduced quality of life. For these patients, we merged quantitative and qualitative data from encounter audio recordings, patient surveys, and the medical record. Results We identified 32 patients (72% women, average age 60) experiencing significantly symptomatic pain at enrollment. Merged themes were 1) Restricted and defined roles: Oncology clinicians suggested and documented cancer-specific approaches to pain management. Patients often (17, 53%) used CAM but rarely desired to discuss it in their encounters. 2) Proactive patients in setting of neutrality: Pain management strategies were considered in 22 instances. CAM was mentioned in 4 (18%) of these discussions but only after patient initiation. Clinicians took a neutral stance. 3) Missed opportunities for person-centered CAM discussions and management: Most (88%) patients were receiving conventional pain medications at enrollment or had them added or escalated during follow-up. Some patients in pain expressed preferences for avoiding opioids. One patient reported wishing CAM would have been discussed after an encounter in which it was not. Conclusion Bringing CAM discussions into the oncology encounter may facilitate a stronger patient-clinician partnership and a more open and safe understanding of pain-related CAM use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)719-726
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of pain and symptom management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • CAM
  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • cancer pain
  • mixed methods
  • oncology
  • pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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