Cultural meanings of pain: a qualitative study of Black Caribbean and White British patients with advanced cancer

Palliat Med. 2008 Jun;22(4):350-9. doi: 10.1177/0269216308090168.


Pain is a common cancer-related symptom, but little research has been conducted that explores the meanings of this symptom across different ethnic groups. This study involved qualitative interviews to explore and compare the meanings of pain among 26 Black Caribbean and 19 White patients with advanced cancer. Patients were recruited from oncology outpatient clinics, a lung clinic and palliative care teams. Interview transcripts were analysed using the framework approach. A total of 23/26 Black Caribbean and 15/19 White patients reported cancer-related pain. Accounts of Black Caribbean and White patients identified pain as a 'challenge' that needed to be mastered by the individual, not necessarily by drugs and identified pain as an 'enemy' that represented an unfair attack. Two further meanings of pain emerged from Black Caribbean patients' accounts: pain as a 'test of faith' that referred to confirmation and strengthening of religious belief, and pain as a 'punishment' that was associated with wrongdoing. These meanings influenced the extent patients were able to accommodate their distress. Pain assessment needs to consider the patients' narratives that include the meanings they attribute to this symptom, and which may be governed by culture.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / ethnology
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Culture*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / ethnology
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • London / ethnology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Terminally Ill / psychology
  • West Indies / ethnology