A study looking at a way of assessing pain and other symptoms using a computer (EPCRC - CSA)

Cancer type:

All cancer types





This study aimed to develop a computerised method to assess pain and other symptoms of cancer.

Pain is one of the most common symptoms of cancer. But pain and other symptoms such as depression and severe weight loss (cachexia) are difficult to measure. The way people record how much a symptom affects them may also vary. Researchers are looking for better ways to record these symptoms, and the way they affect daily life.

In this study, people were asked to answer some questions about pain and other symptoms using a portable computer (tablet). The researchers hoped to learn more about the best questions to ask. And, to find out how people feel about using a computer for this.

The study aimed to develop a more systematic way of assessing pain and other symptoms so that these symptoms can be managed better.

Summary of results

The study team found that it is possible to measure symptoms using a computer in this way. But they also found that being more troubled by your symptoms means you are less likely to do so, and increases your need for help with it.

The team recruited 1,070 people from 8 countries. The people taking part had cancer that had spread from where it started, and were having treatment to control symptoms (palliative care). Of this number, 965 people fully completed the whole assessment, but the team were able to use information from 1,017.

Everyone was asked questions on a touch sensitive portable computer (tablet). The questions asked about

  • Symptoms
  • Quality of life Open a glossary item
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • How well you can manage physically
  • Whether you need help answering the questions
  • Whether you preferred to use a computer to answer these questions, or pencil and paper

The average age of people completing the whole assessment was 63, and, on average, these people were able to care for themselves, but not carry on with normal activities or active work (Karnofsky performance status 70). Those less likely to complete the assessment were older, less fit and had more pain.

People tended to take more time to complete the assessment if they were older, male, had a number of other medical conditions and were not as well physically. Researchers also discovered that the greater people’s pain levels and tiredness, the shorter the amount of time they spent completing the questions. More than 50 out of every hundred people (more than 50%) preferred using the computer (tablet) to pencil and paper, whether or not they had experience in using computers.

The study team said that future research needs to work out the lowest number of helpful questions needed and improve the software to make the symptom assessment as valuable as possible. And, to make it as easy as possible for people who are very weak (frail) to use it.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Marianne J Hjermstad

Supported by

European Palliative Care Research Collaborative (EPCRC)
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)

If you have questions about the trial please contact our cancer information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 4410

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Wendy took part in a new trial studying the possible side effect of hearing loss

A picture of Wendy

"I was delighted to take part in a clinical trial as it has the potential to really help others in the future.”

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