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Breast Cancer Pain, Relationships Studied

CancerWise - February 2007

It’s commonly accepted that spouses can play a vital part in a cancer patient’s treatment and recovery. But exactly what role do partners play in patients’ perception and handling of pain?

Researchers at M. D. Anderson are working with metastatic breast cancer patients and their partners to examine how relationships impact pain – and vice versa.

Hoda Badr photo“Few studies have adequately characterized the pain experience of metastatic breast cancer patients or the impact of pain on spousal relationships and quality of life,” says Hoda Badr, Ph.D., instructor in the Department of Behavioral Science at M. D. Anderson and principal investigator on the study. “This is surprising since the heaviest burden of care often falls to spouses and families.”

Purpose of the study

Researchers will characterize the patient’s pain experience from the perspectives of the patient and the spouse over a course of six months.

They will look at factors that may affect and/or be a result of the patient’s pain experience, including:

  • Specifics of pain, such as degree and timing
  • Spouse response to patient pain
  • Patient reaction to spouse response
  • Relationship changes over time
  • Effects on marital interaction, spousal distress
  • Level, effect and benefit of couple communication

Study description

Each participant and her partner will complete a questionnaire at:

  • The beginning of the study
  • Three months
  • Six months

After the initial questionnaire, couples may choose to take home small handheld computers (PDAs), which will prompt them six times daily to answer questions.

Patients’ questions will deal with:

  • Level of pain
  • Psychological reaction to pain
  • Partners’ response to pain

Partners’ questions will address:

  • Patients' behavior or reactions related to pain
  • Perceived level of pain

When the study is complete, researchers will tabulate and compare all the data.

The time commitment is:

  • 45 to 60 minutes to complete the initial, three- and six-month questionnaires
  • Two to three minutes six times a day for 14 days for PDA study

Couples receive gift cards for completing questionnaires.

All tasks can be completed at regular clinic visits. No additional visits to the hospital are necessary.


Participants must be:

  • Female patients at M. D. Anderson
  • Diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer
  • In early stages of initiating a course of treatment
  • Able to read and write English well enough to understand directions

Partners must be male spouses or significant others living with patients.


Approximately 75% to 90% of advanced cancer patients cope with pain, and patients with breast cancer are more likely to report pain relative to other cancers. However, reports of prevalence and intensity of pain among metastatic breast cancer patients vary widely.

Women with breast cancer most commonly name spouses as sources of support, and spousal support is associated with lower emotional distress and depressive symptoms in patients.

It is believed that spouse response can increase or diminish patient pain, but the mechanisms and extent of this process is unclear.

“This study is the first to give both members of a couple PDAs to gauge pain and spousal support in a cancer setting,” Badr says.

For more information about the study or to enroll, call Hoda Badr at (713) 792-5922 and ask for information about protocol 2003-0595.

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© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center