Nursing & Care Open Access Journal
Review Article
Volume 2 Issue 3 - 2017
Control of Pain and Dyspnea in Patients with Oncologic Disease in Acute Care: Non-Pharmacological Interventions
Ana Ramos1, Ana Patrícia Tavares2, Manuel Lopes2, Felismina Mendes2, Pedro Parreira3, César Fonseca2*
1Ph.D student, Hospital of Medium Tejo, Portugal
2Department of Nursing, Univerisity of Coimbra, Portugal
3Department of Nursing, University of Évora, Portugal
Received: January 12, 2017 | Published: February 13, 2017
*Corresponding author: César Fonseca, Department of Nursing, Univerisity of Coimbra, Portugal, Email:
Citation: Ramos A, Tavares AP, Lopes M, Mendes F, Parreira P, et al. (2017) Control of Pain and Dyspnea in Patients with Oncologic Disease in Acute Care: Non-Pharmacological Interventions. Nurse Care Open Acces J 2(3): 00036. DOI: 10.15406/ncoaj.2017.02.00036


Objective: To identify non-pharmacological strategies in the control of pain and dyspnea, in patient with oncological disease, in acute care.

Methodology:Question in PI[C]O format was used and search at EBSCO (MEDLINE with Full TEXT; CINAHL, Plus with Full Text; British Nursing Index) retrospectively from 2009 to 2015. We included also guidelines by reference entities: Oncology Nursing Society (2011) National Comprehensive Cancer Network and Cancer Care Ontario, resulting in a total of 15 articles.

Results:The gold standard for an adequate symptom control is a systematized assessment. Non-pharmacological measures: psycho-emotional support, hypnosis, counseling/training/ instruction, therapeutic adherence, music therapy, massage, relaxation techniques, telephone support, functional and respiratory re-education increase health gains.

Conclusion:The control of oncologic pain and dyspnea require a comprehensive and multimodal approach.

Keywords:Oncologic pain; Dyspnea; Nursing interventions; Acute care; Music therapy; Symptom; British nursing


Globally, more than 14 million new cases of cancer will occur each year and the number of people with this disease expected to triple by 2030, as a result of survival [1,2]. Survivors continue to experience significant limitations, compared to those without a history of cancer [3]. The presence of symptoms persists permanently, resulting from the direct adverse effects of cancer, treatment, exacerbation and/ or onset of new ones, associated with recurrence or second tumor [4,5].

Pain, dyspnea, fatigue, emotional distress arise simultaneously and are interdependent. In this way, the term cluster symptoms comes to light when two or more symptoms are interrelated, since they can share the same etiology and produce a cumulative effect on the person's functioning [6]. Richards et al. [7] found that patients with a high prevalence of pain were more likely to be treated with high-dose pain relief than those who did not. The incidence of pain at the onset of the disease pathway is estimated at 50% and is increased to approximately 75% at advanced stages, which means that the survivor does not experience it only as an immediate treatment outcome [6]. In an advanced stage of the oncological disease, dyspnea is one of the symptoms that assumes particular relevance, often arises associated with pain (about 45%), represented a cluster symptoms inducer of greater anxiety and fatigue. That is responsible for the demand for health care, so it is fundamental a serious investment in their control [8]. The objective of this systematic review of the literature is to identify non-pharmacological strategies in the control of pain and dyspnea, of the patients with oncological disease, in acute care.

Research Strategy

We formulated a question in PI[C]O format: What are the non-pharmacological strategies (Intervention) for the control of pain and dyspnea (Outcomes) in the patients with oncology (Population) in acute care (Setting)? The electronic database used was based on EBSCO (MEDLINE with Full TEXT; CINAHL, Plus with Full Text, British Nursing Index), and descriptors were searched in the following order: [guideline OR guideline OR evidence based practice OR randomized controlled trial] AND [symptoms control OR dyspnea OR tachypnea OR Cheyne-stokes respiration OR respiratory symptoms OR chronic pain OR cancer pain OR [oncology nursing OR emergency care OR palliative care]. The descriptors were searched, retrospectively from 2009 until 2015, resulting in a total of 12 articles. Inclusion criteria include the guidelines emitted by reference entities in the Oncology Nursing Society, National Comprehensive Cancer Network [9,10] and Cancer Care Ontario. Exclusion criteria included all articles with unclear methodology, repeated in both databases (N =3), aged less than 18 years and with a date prior to 2009. In total, a total of 15 articles. As show the Figure 1.

Figure 1: Research and selection process of articles, from 2009 to 2015.

To assure its applicability in the clinical context, only levels of evidence considered of high quality, that is, up to 2a, like shows the Table 1, were acceptable.



Assessment of Oncologycal Pain

Using self-assessment tools [11,12]

Wong-Baker Faces Scale

Numbers Evaluation Scale

Qualitative Scale

Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale

Summary of Pain Inventory

Using hetero-evaluation tools [11,12]

Assessment of Pain in Advanced Dementia

Observer Scale

Scale Behavioral Pain Scale

Evaluate the characteristics of oncologic pain [5,6,11-16]



Type of pain (somatic, visceral, neuropathic or mixed)

Location and / or presence of irradiation

Duration of pain and pattern of pain (continuous / end of dose / irruptive)

Relieving and exacerbating factors

Response to current and rescue analgesic regimen

Existence of other associated symptoms

Interference in daily living activities

Evaluate psycho-emotional state [11,12]

Degree of concern with the disease

Degree of anxiety

Previous diagnosis of depression and / or personality disorders

Presence of suicidal ideation

Presence of spiritual concerns

To ascertain the existence of other comorbidities and / or additive behaviors [11,12]

To verify the performance of previous or current oncological treatments [11,12]

To perform a comprehensive analysis of the etiology of oncologic pain with analytical and imaginary findings [12]

Non-pharmacological treatment of cancer pain

Individualization of nursing care [8,11,14,17,18]

Inclusion of the significant person in the therapeutic plan [8,11,14,17]

Psycho-emotional support [18]

Counseling / education for health self-management / health literacy [6,12,17-19]

Phone follow-up [12]

Telephone assistence [12]

Newsletter, with analgesic scheme included [12]

Relaxing techniques and guided image [12]

Transcutaneous Electrical Stimulation [12]

Therapeutic Massage, Heat / Hot Application [12]

Music Therapy [18]

Nurse as case manager in therapeutic adherence [12,18]

Appreciation of Dyspnea

Use the acronym O,P,Q,R,S, T,U e V10

Onset: Beginning, frequency and duration

Provoking / Palliating: factors of relief and exacerbation

Quality description

Region / Radiation: association with other symptoms

Severity: intensity

Treatment: therapeutic regimen, efficacy and adverse effects

Understanding: Understanding the etiology attributed

Values: objective in control of dyspnea

Evaluate the psycho-emotional state [1]

To evaluate the existence of other comorbidities [1]

Using assessment tools that include
dyspnea: Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale, Clinical Anxiety and Depression
Scale - HADS, Modified Dyspnea Index (MDI) [1]

Screening of the sub treated causes of
dyspnea, requiring pericardiocentesis, pelurodesis, thoracentesis,
bronchofibroscopy, transfusion support or
antibiotic therapy [20]

Non-Pharmacological Strategies

Control and Dissociation of Respiratory Times [8,20]

Effective assisted cough training [8,20]

Positioning to reduce respiratory work [8,20]

Application of facial cold to stimulate
the trigeminal nerve [1,20]

Consider the need to adopt healthy lifestyles [8]

Psycho-emotional support [1,8,20]

Management of anxiety of the person /
caregiver / family, with exploration of the meaning
of dyspnea for the person, illness and life expectancy [1,8,20]

Relaxing and visualization exercises [1,8,20,21]

Consider adjustment of nutritional and
water habits [8]

Education for self-management of the
therapeutic regimen [8]

Referral to other health services /
professionals: pain unit, functional and respiratory rehabilitation,
palliative care, mental and psychiatric health [1,8,21]

Table 1: Review results.


The assessment of pain is considered the first step towards effective pain control, which includes self-assessment tools that enable a more measurable dimension, where the person's speech is the gold standard in data collection. The characteristics of pain are influenced by the psycho-emotional state, the activities of daily living, the existence of other comorbidities and/or additive behaviors. The performance of previous or current oncological treatments, analytical and imaging data were related to the etiology of pain. This aspect is considered fundamental in a comprehensive analysis of the person with cancer pain [10,22-24]. The non-pharmacological strategies are the person-centered care, which emphasizes the individualization and inclusion of a significant person that increases health outcomes. Directed interventions for counseling, education for self-management, training/instruction, telephone follow-up, health literacy and nurses as case manager, with interconnection with other health professionals and health services increase therapeutic adherence and satisfaction with care [18,22,24,25]. Therapeutic massage, hot and/or cold application, positioning, hypnosis, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and music therapy are considered measures that improve the affectivity of medication regimen [25].

In the evaluation of dyspnea, the literature suggests the use of the acronym O,P,Q,R,S,T,U and V to better evaluate its characteristics: (onset) frequency, provoking factors of relief and exacerbation, (Quality) description of the dyspnea sensation, (region/radiation) the existence of other symptoms simultaneously, (severity) intensity of dyspnea, (Treatment) medication used for its control, efficacy and adverse effects, (Understanding) dyspnea on human living, (Values) the level of acceptable/desirable dyspnea intensity for the person. The instruments to be included in its assessment are: the Edmonton System Assessment Scale, Clinical Anxiety and Depression Scale - HADS, Modified Dyspnea Index (MDI) and Numerical Rating Scale (NRS) for breathlessness, Modified Borg and Chronic Respiratory Questionnaire [26]. The etiology of dyspnea should be carefully investigated to determine the need for other complementary techniques for its relief.

Non-pharmacological strategies aimed at functional and respiratory rehabilitation, cold application, adoption of healthy lifestyles, education for self-management /counseling, psycho-emotional support and relaxation/ visualization exercises in anxiety control and referral to others health professionals/ services allow better control of dyspnea [27,28].


Pain is experienced by most cancer patients, and the incidence tends to increase in the more advanced stages of the disease. Dyspnea also appears as the main symptom, but arises mainly in the more advanced phases of the disease and frequently associated with pain. With regard to the control of pain and dyspnea, its assessment is paramount and fundamental through the use of appropriate scales. Non-pharmacological techniques should be person-centered in order to individualize the nurse's intervention. Its use in conjunction with pharmacological measures increases the effectiveness of the treatments bringing benefits to the patient in terms of pain and dyspnea control, but also proves to be beneficial in the control of anxiety and fatigue. Teamwork among health professionals allows better control of symptoms, increases adherence to the therapeutic regimen and satisfaction with health care.


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