Strategies of complementary and integrative therapies in cancer-related pain-attaining exhaustive cancer pain management

Support Care Cancer. 2019 Aug;27(8):3119-3132. doi: 10.1007/s00520-019-04829-7. Epub 2019 May 11.


Purpose: Complementary integrative therapies (CITs) correspond to growing demand in patients with cancer-related pain. This demand needs to be considered alongside pharmaceutical and/or interventional therapies. CITs can be used to cover certain specific pain-related characteristics. The objective of this review is to present the options for CITs that could be used within dynamic, multidisciplinary, and personalized management, leading to an integrative oncology approach.

Methods: Critical reflection based on literature analysis and clinical practice.

Results: Most CITs only showed trends in efficacy as cancer pain was mainly a secondary endpoint, or populations were restricted. Physical therapy has demonstrated efficacy in motion and pain, in some specific cancers (head and neck or breast cancers) or in treatments sequelae (lymphedema). In cancer survivors, higher levels of physical activity decrease pain intensity. Due to the multimorphism of cancer pain, certain mind-body therapies acting on anxiety, stress, depression, or mood disturbances (such as massage, acupuncture, healing touch, hypnosis, and music therapy) are efficient on cancer pain. Other mind-body therapies have shown trends in reducing the severity of cancer pain and improving other parameters, and they include education (with coping skills training), yoga, tai chi/qigong, guided imagery, virtual reality, and cognitive-behavioral therapy alone or combined. The outcome sustainability of most CITs is still questioned.

Conclusions: High-quality clinical trials should be conducted with CITs, as their efficacy on pain is mainly based on efficacy trends in pain severity, professional judgment, and patient preferences. Finally, the implementation of CITs requires an interdisciplinary team approach to offer optimal, personalized, cancer pain management.

Keywords: Cancer pain; Complementary therapies; Mind-body therapy; Multimorphic pain; Pain management; Personalized management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods
  • Cancer Pain / psychology
  • Cancer Pain / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / methods*
  • Humans
  • Massage / methods
  • Music Therapy
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic