Nearly 40% of cancer survivors have persistent pain, however, little is known about their experiences1. This is increasingly recognised in psychosocial oncology and persistent pain is a National Cancer Research Institute top 10 research priority2. It is important to understand experiences of persistent pain in cancer survivors to support innovations in research, education and practice.
To identify, review and synthesise qualitative literature surrounding the experience of persistent pain in adult cancer survivors.
A systematic qualitative evidence synthesis was conducted between October 2017 and February 2018. Studies were included if they explored cancer survivors’ experience of persistent pain, adopted a qualitative methodology and passed a quality assessment. Data synthesis followed Thomas and Harden’s (2008)3 method of thematic synthesis of qualitative research.
Four studies were identified that generated findings from 52 breast cancer survivors. Sample sizes ranged from 8 to 21. The main themes included ‘the physical impact of pain’, ‘pain is not in isolation but related to the cancer experience’, ‘there are multimodal ways of coping’, ‘pain is unexpected and people are left to manage it alone’, and ‘pain is an emotional experience’. Furthermore, there is a temporal nature to persistent pain and cancer survivors’ experience of it.
Persistent pain in cancer survivorship has physical and emotional consequences that are unique to this population. There is limited qualitative research into this area, and what is available is exclusively in the breast cancer population. More research is needed to understand the experience of survivors from different tumour types at various stages of survivorship.