Questionnaire-based somatosensory profiling in breast cancer survivors: are we there yet? Associations between questionnaires and quantitative sensory testing

Disabil Rehabil. 2022 May 26;1-12. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2022.2076931. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Pain and sensory disturbances are common side effects of breast cancer treatment. Differential somatosensory functioning may reflect distinct pathophysiological backgrounds and therapeutic needs. Aim was to examine whether questionnaires evaluating signs and symptoms related to somatosensory functioning correlate sufficiently with quantitative sensory testing (QST) in breast cancer survivors to warrant consideration for somatosensory profiling in clinical practice.

Methods: One year after breast cancer surgery, 147 women underwent QST and completed following questionnaires: Douleur Neuropathique en 4 questions (DN4), Central Sensitization Inventory, Margolis Pain Diagram and Visual Analog Scales (VAS). Associations between the questionnaires and QST were evaluated using Spearman correlation coefficients (rs).

Results: Significant but weak (rs < 0.30) correlations were found between total DN4 score and QST results at the inner upper arm for detection of sharp stimuli (rs = 0.227), cold stimuli (rs = -0.186), and painful heat stimuli (rs = 0.179), as well as between QST evaluating conditioned pain modulation and the Margolis Pain Diagram on one hand (rs = 0.176) and minimum-maximum pain intensity differences (VAS) on the other (rs = -0.170).

Conclusion: Questionnaires evaluating signs and symptoms related to somatosensory functioning are insufficient for somatosensory profiling. Although somatosensory profiling may be valuable in a mechanism-based management, more research on the most appropriate clinical tools is needed.IMPLICATIONS FOR REHABILITATIONClinicians should be able to recognize that patients with persistent pain or sensory disturbances following breast cancer surgery may have a component of altered somatosensory processing as a significant contributor to their complaint in order to address it appropriately.Somatosensory profiling has yet to be implemented into clinical practice.No evidence-based recommendations can be made on the use of self-reported questionnaires to assess somatosensory processing in a breast cancer population based on the findings of this study.It is suggested to combine information on how individuals process and experience somatosensory stimulation with information from the patient interview or questionnaires to consider which biological, psychological and/or social factors may drive or sustain these neurophysiological processes.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Central Sensitization Inventory; DN4; Margolis Pain Diagram; Visual Analog Scale; quantitative sensory testing; sensory profiling.