A Canadian online survey of oncology nurses’ perspectives on the defining characteristics and assessment of breakthrough pain in cancer

Margaret I. Fitch, Alison McAndrew, Stephanie Burlein-Hall


This paper explores oncology nurses’ recognition of breakthrough pain in cancer (BTPc), methods they used for identification and assessment, and their perception of the burden to patients. An online questionnaire was distributed to 688 oncology nurses across Canada, and 201 participated. Sixty-four per cent of nurses surveyed reported that 41% to 80% of their patients experience BTPc, but many were unsure of the basic characteristics of the profile of a BTPc episode. Although a minority of respondents (33%) reported they did not use pain assessment tools/guidelines to help diagnose BTPc, those who did largely endorsed their use. Survey findings support the debilitating impact of BTPc, but further education is needed to advance the quality and consistency in pain assessment.

Key words: breakthrough cancer pain, nursing, pain management, Canadian

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