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Pain Manag Nurs. 2015 Jun;16(3):336-45. doi: 10.1016/j.pmn.2014.08.010. Epub 2014 Dec 19.

Experiences of pain: a longitudinal, qualitative study of patients with head and neck cancer recently treated with radiotherapy.

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Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Pain and Rehabilitation Center, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden. Electronic address:
Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Pain and Rehabilitation Center, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.
Department of Social and Welfare Studies, Linköping University, Norrköping, Sweden.


It is not unusual for patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) to suffer from both tumor- and treatment-related pain that is difficult to alleviate despite individualized pain management. The aim of this qualitative study was to describe how HNC patients experience pain and how pain influences those who are treated with radiotherapy (RT). Qualitative semistructured interviews were performed 1 and 6 months after patients completed RT. The interviews addressed symptoms, moods, and suffering. The study included 26 patients with HNC who had recently completed RT. The interviews were analyzed using manifest content analysis. The main category was: HNC patients did not report that their severe physical pain influenced their psychological suffering, but it did influence their social lives. Furthermore, four categories were revealed: pain in the head and neck region, overwhelming fatigue, altered mood and preoccupied mind, and decreased participation and changed relationships. Physical pain, psychological distress, and social withdrawal were prominent at both interviews and consequently their situation can be considered as chronic. Remarkably, patients did not express a clear relationship between pain and psychological load. This may imply a biomedical view of pain or may reflect the difficult situation patients were in (i.e., facing a possibly life-threatening cancer). Thus, their situation might require a prioritization and might negatively affect the possibility of identifying the interaction between the different pain dimensions. The biopsychosocial model of chronic pain aims to understand the interaction between pain and psychosocial factors. Interventions aiming to teach patients with HNC how to internalize the biopsychosocial model framework to manage pain could be useful and should be evaluated in future research.

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