[Skip to Content]

Do culture, ethnicity influence pain control?

What sorts of therapies are Chinese Americans likely to use for pain control when they undergo cancer treatment?

That‘s a question raised in a paper published this year in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. One of the authors is Alice Chu, a medical student at Upstate.

Upstate medical student Alice Chu

Upstate medical student Alice Chu

She and her co-authors surveyed 170 Chinese immigrants receiving cancer care at a community-based oncology practice. Their primary language was Mandarin or Cantonese, and all of the patients had persistent pain for at least three months prior.

Traditional Chinese medicine techniques are distinctive in their emphasis on energy theory, with pain believed to result from disharmonies and imbalances in the body. Therefore, the researchers reasoned, an ethnic Chinese patient may be likely to seek help repairing the imbalance through use of Chinese medicine approaches.

The majority of the patients in the survey, or 77, reported using only pain medications. Seventeen said they used only herbal medicine, massage, acupuncture or other complementary or alternative medicine approaches. Eighteen said they made use of both approaches.

Of the 35 patients who used complementary or alternative approaches either alone or in combination with pain medications, 19 favored herbal medications, 13 used acupuncture, and eight underwent Chinese massage, called tui na. Others said they used energy healing or Reiki, qigong, tai chi and meditation.

Who seeks alternatives?

Four characteristics of the Chinese Americans in this study who were most likely to use complementary or alternative medicine for pain control:

-- high school education or higher

-- higher pain intensity and interference

-- greater psychological distress

-- younger in age

Source: The Journal of Pain and Symptom Management

spring 16 cancer magThis article appears in the spring 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine