Integrative Medicine for Cancer-Related Pain: A Narrative Review

Healthcare (Basel). 2024 Feb 4;12(3):403. doi: 10.3390/healthcare12030403.


Cancer-related pain (C-RP) is a prevalent and debilitating concern among patients with cancer, with conventional treatments limited in their ability to provide adequate relief, and by the adverse effects associated with their use. Complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) modalities have been shown to be potentially effective and safe for the treatment of pain and related symptoms, when used in conjunction with conventional medications and under medical supervision. An increasing number of oncology centers provide CIM within their conventional supportive and palliative care service, in an "Integrative Oncology" (IO) setting. A large body of clinical research, including systematic reviews and guidelines such as those published in 2022 by the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO), in collaboration with the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), support the use of some CIM modalities for C-RP and related concerns. These include acupuncture for general and peri-operative/procedural pain, as well as aromatase inhibitor-associated arthralgia (AIA); reflexology or acupressure for pain during systemic therapy for cancer; hypnosis for procedural pain or pain due to diagnostic workup; and massage for pain experienced by patients during palliative and hospice care. Further research is needed, within both randomized control trials and pragmatic non-controlled studies which are more reflective of the real-life IO setting. This review summarizes the evidence supporting the use of CIM for C-RP; the analgesic mechanism of the modalities presented; and the challenges facing IO researchers, as well as the implementation of the 2022 SIO-ASCO guideline recommendations.

Keywords: acupuncture; cancer-related pain; complementary integrative medicine; herbal supplements; mind-body-medicine; pragmatic research; touch therapies.

Publication types

  • Review

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.