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What are the current challenges of managing cancer pain and could digital technologies help?
  1. Rosalind Adam1,
  2. Marijn de Bruin2,
  3. Christopher David Burton3,
  4. Christine M Bond1,
  5. Maria Giatsi Clausen4 and
  6. Peter Murchie1
  1. 1Academic Primary Care, Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  2. 2Aberdeen Health Psychology Group, Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  3. 3Academic Unit of Primary Medical Care, University of Sheffield, Sheffiled, UK
  4. 4School of Health Sciences, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rosalind Adam, Centre of Academic Primary Care, University of Aberdeen, Room 1:131, Polwarth Building, Foresterhill AB25 2ZD, Aberdeen, UK; rosalindadam{at}


Objectives Pain remains a problem for people with cancer despite effective treatments being available. We aimed to explore current pain management strategies used by patients, caregivers and professionals and to investigate opportunities for digital technologies to enhance cancer pain management.

Methods A qualitative study comprising semistructured interviews and focus groups. Patients with cancer pain, their caregivers and health professionals from Northeast Scotland were recruited from a purposive sample of general practices. Professionals were recruited from regional networks.

Results Fifty one participants took part in 33 interviews (eight patients alone, six patient/caregiver dyads and 19 professionals) and two focus groups (12 professionals). Living with cancer was hard work for patients and caregivers and comparable to a ‘full-time job’. Patients had personal goals which involved controlling pain intensity and balancing this with analgesic use, side effects, overall symptom burden and social/physical activities.

Digital technologies were embraced by most patients, and made living life with advanced cancer easier and richer (eg, video calls with family). Technology was underutilised for pain and symptom management. There were suggestions that technology could support self-monitoring and communicating problems to professionals, but patients and professionals were concerned about technological monitoring adding to the work of managing illness.

Conclusions Cancer pain management takes place in the context of multiple, sometimes competing personal goals. It is possible that technology could be used to help patients share individual symptom experiences and goals, thus enhancing tailored care. The challenge is for digital solutions to add value without adding undue burden.

  • cancer
  • pain
  • symptoms and symptom management
  • communication
  • home care

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors RA was involved in the conception and design of this study, carried out all qualitative enquiries, analysed the data and wrote the paper.

    MdB, CMB, CDB and PM were involved in designing the study, analysing qualitative data and revising the article critically.

    MGC was involved in qualitative data analysis and revising the article critically.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Patient data have been fully anonymised in this report. All participants gave informed consent to participate in this qualitative study.

  • Ethics approval North of Scotland Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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