Theoretical models suggest that anxiety, pain intensity, and pain catastrophizing are implicated in a cycle that leads to heightened fear of cancer recurrence (FCR). However, these relationships have not been empirically examined. The objective of this study was to examine the relationships between anxiety symptoms, pain intensity, pain catastrophizing, and FCR in childhood cancer survivors and their parents and to examine whether pain catastrophizing predicts increased FCR beyond anxiety symptoms and pain intensity.
The participants were 54 survivors of various childhood cancers (Mage=13.1 y, range=8.4 to 17.9 y, 50% female) and their parents (94% mothers). Children reported on their pain intensity in the past 7 days. Children and parents separately completed measures of anxiety symptoms, pain catastrophizing, and FCR.
Higher anxiety symptoms were associated with increased pain intensity, pain catastrophizing, and FCR in childhood cancer survivors. Higher anxiety symptoms and pain catastrophizing, but not child pain intensity, were associated with FCR in parents. Hierarchical linear regression models revealed that pain catastrophizing explained unique variance in both parent (ΔR2=0.11, P<0.01) and child (ΔR2=0.07, P<0.05) FCR over and above the effects of their own anxiety symptoms and child pain.
The results of this study provides novel data on the association between pain and FCR and suggests that a catastrophic style of thinking about pain is more closely related to heightened FCR than one’s anxiety symptoms or the sensory pain experience in both childhood cancer survivors and their parents. Pain catastrophizing may be a novel intervention target for survivors and parents struggling with fears of recurrence.