Wake Forest School of Medicine Awarded Grant to Study Non-opioid Pain Management in Hispanic/Latinx Cancer Survivors

March 10, 2022

For the more than one-third of cancer survivors who suffer from chronic pain related to treatment, that pain can continue for months or even years after treatment ends. Unfortunately, there are few non-pharmaceutical interventions for pain management for cancer survivors, and even fewer programs offer pain management designed specifically for non-English speaking populations in the United States.

To address this disparity in access to pain management for Spanish-speaking Hispanic and Latinx populations, researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine have been awarded a $580,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) HEAL Initiative and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop a culturally and linguistically responsive pain intervention for Spanish-speaking populations.

HEAL stands for Helping to End Addiction Long-term and is an effort from the NIH to stem the national opioid public health crisis.

“Although non-pharmacological interventions for managing chronic pain can be very effective, these programs often are underused and access to them has been lacking,” said Donald B. Penzien, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the study.

The two-year grant is supplemental to two previous grants awarded to Wake Forest School of Medicine: a $25 million grant from NCI’s Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) and $6.9 million in grant funding from the NCI and the NIH HEAL Initiative to study non-opioid pain management in cancer survivors through a web-based pain management program called painTRAINER.

The painTRAINER program simulates in-person, pain-coping training sessions through an online program. Researchers are currently testing whether this online approach improves coping strategies and function and decreases pain and pain medication use in cancer survivors who have completed treatment yet still experience moderate to severe pain most days of the week. 

People enrolled in the painTRAINER clinical trial watch a video about cancer pain control, receive printed educational materials addressing cancer pain and receive login instructions for the painTRAINER website. 

Participants then complete eight weekly online modules that are tailored to their individual needs. Topics include various pain-control practices such as progressive relaxation, imagery and distraction methods and techniques to identify and change negative thoughts.  

However, painTRAINER is currently available only in English and may not be culturally compatible for diverse ethnoracial groups. 

With the latest grant, researchers will work closely alongside community partners to develop a Spanish-language version of painTRAINER that is both linguistically and culturally appropriate. 

“This work is about so much more than simply translating words into Spanish,” said Megan Bennett Irby, Ph.D., a researcher in the department of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine and co-principal investigator. “This project harnesses the expertise of the Hispanic and Latinx community and elevates their voices to build a pain coping skills program that honors their heritage and fully incorporates their priorities, concerns, needs and assets into every aspect of the research process.

“We feel privileged to partner with and learn from the lived experiences of members of Hispanic and Latinx communities. With them as the drivers of this research, together we have the potential to create a program that is more relevant to their own cultural experiences and more likely to be sustainable long-term.”

Media Contact: Myra Wright, mgwright@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-8806