Project Summary

This research project is in progress. PCORI will post the research findings on this page within 90 days after the results are final.

What is the research about?

Millions of patients with cancer have pain while they are in the hospital. Medicine can help ease pain, but many have unpleasant side effects. Therapies like acupuncture and pain counseling may help reduce pain and the side effects of medicine. Acupuncture is a Chinese therapy that treats pain with thin needles inserted into the skin at specific points. Pain counseling includes providing supportive listening and teaching coping skills to help patients manage their pain. However, most hospitals do not offer these therapies.

The research team wants to know whether hospitalized patients with cancer have less pain if they receive acupuncture, pain counseling, or both, compared with patients who receive pain medicine only.

Who can this research help?

Results from this study may help hospital administrators decide whether to offer acupuncture and/or pain counseling for patients with cancer who are in the hospital. Results may help doctors and patients decide how to treat cancer pain in the hospital.

What is the research team doing?

The research team is enrolling 480 patients with cancer during their hospital stays at two hospitals in San Francisco. During the study, all patients are receiving their usual pain medicine that the hospitals provide. The team is assigning each participant, by chance, to receive acupuncture, pain counseling, neither, or both in addition to their pain medicine.

The team is surveying patients to see if adding acupuncture, counseling, or both to pain medicine reduces pain, improves quality of life, or improves the side effects of pain medicine. Using electronic medical records, the team is checking to see if any combination of treatments is lowering the amount of pain medicine that patients are taking.

Finally, the team is interviewing some of the patients in the study, the patients’ caregivers, and healthcare providers, such as oncologists, acupuncturists, and pharmacists. The team wants to know how these people feel about using acupuncture and counseling to treat cancer pain in the hospital. The team also wants to know about patients’ needs and how happy they are with pain treatment.

Patients with cancer, their caregivers, and their healthcare providers are helping design the study. They are also helping choose outcomes of interest and interpret findings.

Research methods at a glance

Design Elements Description
Design Randomized controlled trial (factorial)
Population Hospitalized adult patients admitted to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center at Mission Bay or Zuckerberg San Francisco General for an anticipated stay of 48 hours or more, with a malignant solid tumor, and with moderate or severe pain
  • Standard pharmacologic pain management
  • Standard pharmacologic pain management plus acupuncture
  • Standard pharmacologic pain management plus pain counseling
  • Standard pharmacologic pain management plus acupuncture and pain counseling

Primary: worst pain intensity

Secondary: health-related quality of life, opioid dosing during hospital stay, presence and severity of side effects

Timeframe 5-day follow-up for primary outcome

Project Information

Maria Chao, DrPH, MPA
University of California, San Francisco
Nonpharmacologic Approaches to Relieve Pain and Symptom Distress among Diverse Hospitalized Cancer Patients

Key Dates

August 2017
December 2022

Study Registration Information


Award Type
Health Conditions Health Conditions These are the broad terms we use to categorize our funded research studies; specific diseases or conditions are included within the appropriate larger category. Note: not all of our funded projects focus on a single disease or condition; some touch on multiple diseases or conditions, research methods, or broader health system interventions. Such projects won’t be listed by a primary disease/condition and so won’t appear if you use this filter tool to find them. View Glossary
Populations Populations PCORI is interested in research that seeks to better understand how different clinical and health system options work for different people. These populations are frequently studied in our portfolio or identified as being of interest by our stakeholders. View Glossary
Intervention Strategy Intervention Strategies PCORI funds comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) studies that compare two or more options or approaches to health care, or that compare different ways of delivering or receiving care. View Glossary
State State The state where the project originates, or where the primary institution or organization is located. View Glossary
Last updated: November 30, 2022