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Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for cancer-related pain in adults

Hurlow A, Bennett MI, Robb KA, Johnson MI, Simpson KH, Oxberry SG
Published Online: 
14 March 2012

Cancer-related pain is complex and multidimensional but is mostly managed using drug therapy. There is increasing recognition of the need for non-drug approaches and TENS may have a significant role to play. Only one new study met eligibility criteria for this review update, making at total of three included studies. TENS was given to 15 participants in one study, 41 participants in the other and 24 participants in the most recently included study. The newly included study suggested TENS might improve cancer bone pain on movement, but as a pilot study it was not designed to determine the impact of TENS on pain. The two studies in the previous review did not show that TENS significantly improved cancer pain. One study did not have sufficient participants to determine whether or not TENS had an effect. TENS was well tolerated in all three studies. There were significant differences in participants, treatments, procedures and symptom measurement tools used in the studies. In two of the studies some participants were able to identify when they received active TENS and when they received placebo. Consequently, there is insufficient evidence to judge whether TENS should be used in adults with cancer-related pain. Further research using well designed clinical trials is needed to improve knowledge in this field.