A study using art therapy to help with pain after breast cancer treatment

Please note - this trial is no longer recruiting patients. We hope to add results when they are available.

Cancer type:

Breast cancer





This study is looking into how art therapy can change the experience of pain after breast cancer treatment.

The researchers want to see if and how art therapy sessions can affect your experience of constant pain.

In this study they will look at your pain score and use of painkillers (analgesia) to find out how your experience of pain has changed. They also want to know how this affects your daily life.

More about this trial

Doctors usually treat cancer pain with more than one treatment. These include medicines, psychological, physical, and complementary therapy. There is evidence that treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy, music therapy and touch therapy benefit some people with pain.

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy where you use art to show those feelings that may be difficult to put into words. Research has shown that art therapy could improve distress, depression, tiredness, and quality of life, general health and help people cope with cancer. 

There is not much research in the benefit of art therapy as part of pain treatment. Small studies have shown some benefits. But researchers think art therapy might help you to express your pain in a way that words can’t. This experience can be deeply relaxing as it helps you release any difficult issues and feelings. It helps you to make sense of a bad experience and can help you have a sense of identity.

The researchers want to see if art therapy can help to reduce your experience of physical pain after treatment for breast cancer. They also want to know if it changes how well you get on with your day to day life.

They measure this through your pain score on a scale called the Brief Pain Inventory (BPI). You also tell them how many painkillers you are taking during the study.

Who can enter

The following bullet points list the entry conditions for this study. Talk to your doctor or the study team if you are unsure about any of these. They will be able to advise you.

Who can take part
You may be able to join this study if all of the following apply. You:

  • have breast cancer and have been assessed by the Royal Marsden NHS Trust pain team
  • have had pain for longer than 3 months since your chemotherapy, surgery or radiotherapy finished
  • are 18 or older
  • are expected to live for more than 2 months
  • can speak English fluently
  • can give consent
  • show an interest in art therapy
  • had an assessment from the pain team who found that your pain is under control by your current medication

Who can’t take part
You cannot join this study if any of these apply. You have breast cancer and:

  • have finished chemotherapy or radiotherapy less than 3 months before joining the study or you are going to have it during the study
  • have had surgery to relieve pain less than 3 months before joining the study or you are going to have it during the study
  • have had a change to your painkillers less than 2 weeks before joining the study or during the study
  • have reported your worst pain as moderate pain (less than 4 on a scale of 1-10) in the 2 weeks before the study
  • want to take part in art therapy sessions apart from the ones offered during the study
  • have other psychological therapies from another therapist during the study
  • have physiotherapy for problems related to your breast cancer treatment during the study
  • have massage or reflexology treatments during the study

Trial design

The researchers need 20 people to join. It is a mixed method pilot study.

Everyone in the study sees the art therapist.

You see the therapist for an initial assessment. After that you have 3 sessions of art therapy. Each appointment lasts 60 minutes.

Art materials will be available in the art therapy room and you can use any materials you want to. The art therapist will support you during your art making and you can talk about anything you wish. Anything said in these sessions is confidential.

Within a week or so after your final session you see the art therapist again. This is for a reflective interview. During this session you and the art therapist look at your art images and the therapist will ask you a few questions. The questions are about your process of making the images and how they relate to your life. This session will be audio recorded.

The therapist will ask you to score your pain and how it has affected your activities and mood on a simple scale.

You fill out the BPI within 24 hours after:

  • the initial assessment
  • each of the 3 art therapy sessions
  • the reflective interview

The BPI takes about 10 minutes to complete. You send it back by post in an envelope provided by the therapist after each session.

Throughout the study you also make a note of the painkillers you take each day. You take this information to every appointment with the therapist.

After all your sessions have finished, you have a final interview with a researcher. They will ask you about your experience of taking part in the study. This session will also be audio recorded.

Hospital visits

You visit the hospital for:

  • an initial assessment with the art therapist
  • 3 art therapy sessions
  • a reflective interview
  • a final interview

The time between each appointment will be 1 to 3 weeks. 

Side effects

It is unlikely that you will have any side effects. The art therapist is trained and qualified to deal with distressing and sensitive issues that may come up. They will make sure that you feel emotionally ready to leave a session.

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

Dr Clare Shaw

Supported by

The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


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

Caroline took part in a clinical trial for breast cancer

“I had treatment last year and I want to give something back.”

Last reviewed:

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