45 and Up Study used in world-first research on cancer and pain

Pain is one of the most feared symptoms of cancer, but little research has been done on how cancer survivors experience it. A novel research project has done just that, using the unique data resources of the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study – one of the world’s largest studies into healthy ageing.

The research compared the pain experiences of 16,000 participants in the 45 and Up Study who had had a cancer diagnosis with a control group of over 100,000 cancer-free Study participants. It is the first study of its kind to compare pain in people with and without cancer and also to look at different cancer types and stages separately.

Investigators from the Australian National University found pain levels varied markedly depending on the type of cancer. Survivors of blood cancers such as multiple myeloma or leukaemia had a greater burden of pain than people without cancer, as did those with cancers with a poorer prognosis, such as lung cancer.

But the good news, says senior author Professor Emily Banks, is that pain levels experienced by many cancer survivors are in fact not that different from the general population.

“Reassuringly, on average, cancer survivors who had not received treatment in the last month and survivors of common cancers such as breast, colorectal and prostate cancer had pain levels not dissimilar to their peers without cancer,” Professor Banks says. 

“This means that a lot of people in the community who have had cancer in the past are not experiencing pain that is affecting their daily lives.”

Findings from the study highlight the need for better pain management of cancer survivors and for continuous physical and psychological assessment to ensure the well-being of cancer survivors, the authors say. Pain management is often fragmented and not well integrated into routine care, they note.

“We’re delighted to see the publication of this really important work on cancer and pain using 45 and Up Study data,” says Dr Kerrin Bleicher, Director of the Sax Institute’s Research Assets division.

“It’s another example of the ongoing impact of the Study on cancer research, shedding light not just on patient experience, as in this case, but also on risk factors, diagnosis, screening, patterns of care, health system costs, burden of disease and more.”

The 45 and Up Study is one of the biggest ongoing longitudinal studies in the world. Administered by the Sax Institute, the Study has followed more than 250,000 Australian men and women aged 45 years and over since 2005. Study participants are followed up approximately every five years with a survey on their health and wellbeing and have consented to have their survey data linked to a range of administrative datasets.

Access the full study on pain and cancer here.

Find out more about the 45 and Up Study here.