Edinburgh Research Explorer

The use of quantitative sensory testing in cancer pain assessment: A systematic review

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

  • Maise E. Martland
  • Ahmed S. Rashidi
  • Michael I. Bennett
  • Marie Fallon
  • Chris Jones
  • Roman Rolke
  • Matthew R. Mulvey

Related Edinburgh Organisations

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)669-684
JournalEuropean Journal of Pain (United Kingdom)
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2020


Objective: To summarize the literature on the use of quantitative sensory testing (QST) in the assessment of pain in people with cancer and to describe which QST parameters consistently demonstrate abnormal sensory processing in patients with cancer pain. Databases and Data Treatment: Medline, EMBASE, AMED, CINAHL, SCOPUS and CENTRAL were searched for observational or experimental studies using QST in patients with a cancer diagnosis and reporting pain. Search strategies were based on the terms “quantitative sensory testing”, “cancer”, “pain”, “cancer pain” and “assessment”. Databases were searched from inception to January 2019. Data were extracted and synthesized narratively, structured around the different QST modalities and sub-grouped by cancer pain aetiology (tumour- or treatment-related pain). Results: Searches identified 286 records of which 18 met the eligibility criteria for inclusion. Three studies included patients with tumour-related pain, and 15 studies included patients with pain from chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). Across all studies, 50% (9/18) reported sensory abnormities using thermal detection thresholds (cool and warm), 44% (8/18) reported abnormal mechanical detection thresholds using von-Frey filaments and 39% (7/18) found abnormal pinprick thresholds. Abnormal vibration and thermal pain (heat/cold) thresholds were each reported in a third of included studies. Conclusion: This systematic review highlights the lack of published data characterizing the sensory phenotype of tumour-related cancer pain. This has implications for our understanding of the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms of cancer pain. Understanding the multiple mechanisms driving cancer pain will help to move towards rational individualized analgesic treatment choices. Significance: This systematic review found that pain in cancer patients is associated with abnormal sensory responses to thermal, mechanical and pinprick stimuli. However, these findings are based primarily on studies of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and data on tumour-related pain are lacking, warranting further research.

    Research areas

  • assessment, cancer, pain, QST, quantitative sensory testing, systematic review

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