Send to

Choose Destination
J Pain Res. 2016 Jul 22;9:515-34. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S97759. eCollection 2016.

Effectiveness of the World Health Organization cancer pain relief guidelines: an integrative review.

Author information

School of Nursing, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, USA.


Inadequate cancer pain relief has been documented extensively across historical records. In response, in 1986, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed guidelines for cancer pain treatment. The purpose of this paper is to disseminate the results of a comprehensive, integrative review of studies that evaluate the effectiveness of the WHO guidelines. Studies were included if they: 1) identified patients treated with the guidelines, 2) evaluated self-reported pain, 3) identified instruments used, 4) provided data documenting pain relief, and 5) were written in English. Studies were coded for duration of treatment, definition of pain relief, instruments used, findings related to pain intensity or relief, and whether measures were used other than the WHO analgesic ladder. Twenty-five studies published since 1987 met the inclusion criteria. Evidence indicates 20%-100% of patients with cancer pain can be provided pain relief with the use of the WHO guidelines - while considering their status of treatment or end-of-life care. Due to multiple limitations in included studies, analysis was limited to descriptions. Future research to examine the effectiveness of the WHO guidelines needs to consider recommendations to facilitate study comparisons by standardizing outcome measures. Recent studies have reported that patients with cancer experience pain at moderate or greater levels. The WHO guidelines reflect the knowledge and effectual methods to relieve most cancer pain, but the guidelines are not being adequately employed. Part of the explanation for the lack of adoption of the WHO guidelines is that they may be considered outdated by many because they are not specific to the pharmacological and interventional options used in contemporary pain management practices. The conundrum of updating the WHO guidelines is to encompass the latest pharmacological and interventional innovations while maintaining its original simplicity.


World Health Organization; cancer; guidelines; pain; review

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Dove Medical Press Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center