Researcher Gagliese tackles cancer pain


Above and below, left: Prof. Lucia Gagliese

Pain is one of the most common and most feared symptoms associated with cancer. York Professor Lucia Gagliese, a health psychologist in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science, is anxious to help alleviate those fears. Through funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), she is exploring ways of assessing and managing cancer-related pain.

Already well-known for her investigations into age differences in pain research that belie the notion that chronic pain is a normal part of aging, Gagliese has tackled other preconceived ideas. Her testing of commonly held assumptions about pain in under-studied and often under-served groups has driven her to the forefront of research in the field.

Gagliese has set up Canada’s first multi-institutional, multidisciplinary research team to study cancer pain in the elderly, at York University and the University Health Network at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. As well as assessing pain, the team is documenting the psychological and social needs of patients and the identification of appropriate care for under-serviced and disadvantaged groups, such as the cognitively impaired.

“As the population ages, the number of cancer patients is expected to grow dramatically, creating a tremendous demand for effective and affordable care,” Gagliese notes. “Pain management services in Canada are inadequate and greater expertise in managing cancer pain is urgently needed.”


Gagliese’s studies have shown that elderly people do not accept chronic pain as a normal part of aging, and they suffer significant emotional stress because of their pain. She has found that cancer pain in particular is often poorly managed due to inadequate assessment, especially among the elderly and those unable to verbally communicate.

“The consequences of this are serious, as unrelieved pain is associated with immune suppression, respiratory depression, cognitive impairment, psychological distress, functional limitations, and hastened progression of the disease,” explains Gagliese.

By demonstrating that pain is a multidimensional phenomenon requiring assessment at the psychological and cognitive levels, as well as the physiological, Gagliese is helping to enhance the quality of life of growing numbers of people with cancer. Her work brings together experts in the fields of pain, mental health, oncology, palliative care, pharmacology and anesthesiology.

Recently, VP Research & Innovation Stan Shapson presented Gagliese with a certificate from CFI, honouring her for her research.