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Wayne State leads study to improve management of cancer pain in African Americans

April 11, 2011

DETROIT — Nearly all patients with advanced cancer experience severe pain, and almost half of all other cancer patients have some pain, regardless of the type or stage of the disease. Pain often limits a patient's daily activities and causes distress. A new study, led by Wayne State University’s College of Nursing and funded by a three-year, $1,078,000 award from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, aims to improve the care of African Americans with cancer pain.

Prior research done by April Vallerand, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, associate professor of nursing at Wayne State University, showed that African American cancer patients experience higher pain levels, resulting from a lower feeling of control over pain and a need for help with pain management. Pain care must be highly individualized and responsive to the rapidly changing needs of patients and caregivers trying to manage pain and symptoms at home. This is especially important because patients and caregivers are increasingly responsible for daily pain and symptom management due to shorter hospital stays.

“Patients and caregivers are typically unprepared to manage cancer pain, so including both in teaching and coaching is essential to assure pain control,” said Vallerand. “Our previous study was a one-time intervention that included medication management and pain advocacy information, and we are now expanding to a five-week program called Power Over Pain - Coaching or POP-C. We have also added a new element called Living with Pain that will help patients and families do more of the things they want and need to do in spite of serious illness.”

The POP-C program will expand patients’ ability to function and is designed specifically for African American cancer patients undergoing outpatient treatment. “We will address the challenges to pain care that have remained unsolved in this urban community by better managing cancer pain African Americans on a case-by-case basis,” said Vallerand. “We are trying to reduce suffering, decrease patient and caregiver distress and burden, and help patients function in spite of cancer pain.”

The program also aims to reduce current disparities in access, treatment and outcomes for patients and their families. When shown to be effective, this intervention can be adapted for diverse populations with pain so that patients and loved ones can live life to the fullest.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry, and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the City of Detroit, State of Michigan, and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.