Wake Forest medical school pain-management study expands to address Spanish-speaking patients | Local News

Wake Forest School of Medicine has been awarded an additional $580,000 federal grant to help develop a culturally and linguistically responsive pain intervention program for Spanish-speaking populations.

The grant comes from the National Institutes of Health’s HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) initiative and the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The two-year grant is supplemental to two five-year grants received in 2019: $25 million from NCI’s community oncology research program; and $6.9 million from NCI and the HEAL Initiative to study non-opioid pain management in cancer survivors through a web-based pain management program called painTRAINER.

Clinical trial participants must be at least age 18 and at least three months into post-treatment and still having significant cancer- or treatment-related pain. Participants will continue to receive their usual medical care.

“On average, as many as 40% of people who go through cancer treatment are left with some kind of residual and persistent pain,” said Dr. Donald Penzien, professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

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The main focus of the latest grant initiative is lowering the incidence of opioid addiction in the Hispanic community through non-pharmaceutical means, particularly among cancer patients and survivors who can suffer from chronic pain related to treatment for months or even years after the treatment ends.

“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 Penzien, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the medical school and co-principal investigator of the study.

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The painTRAINER program simulates in-person, pain-coping training sessions through an online program.

Researchers are testing whether this online approach improves coping strategies and function, as well as 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.

Enrollees 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.

Currently, however, painTRAINER is available only in English and may not be culturally compatible for diverse racial groups.

“This work is about so much more than simply translating words into Spanish,” said Megan Bennett Irby, a researcher in the medical school’s department of psychiatry and behavioral medicine and co-principal investigator.

“This project harnesses the expertise of the Hispanic 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.

“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,” Irby said.