Alexithymia, coping, and illness behavior correlates of pain experience in cancer patients

Piero Porcelli, Cinzia Tulipani, Evaristo Maiello, Giuseppina Cilenti, Orlando Todarello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper aimed to investigate the role played by key psychological factors in the experience of pain in cancer. One hundred and eight consecutive cancer patients were administered validated scales for pain, alexithymia, coping with cancer, and illness behavior. Two groups of patients with (n = 45, 42%) and without (n=63, 58%) current pain were compared. Pain was associated to tumor sites and status, poor adjustment to cancer, and higher disease conviction and perception, but not to global alexithymia. However, the component of difficulty identifying feelings (DIF) of the alexithymia construct was significantly higher in pain patients compared to pain-free patients (t = 2.88, p <0.01), constituted one of the independent predictors of pain (r = 0.37; β = 0.27, p <0.01), and correlated with quality descriptors of pain (r = 0.33, p <0.05). The present findings showed for the first time that although alexithymia was not globally related to cancer pain, the DIF component was however associated to pain dimensions, thus suggesting it might be involved in the way patients describe their pain experience, together with maladaptive coping and abnormal illness behavior. Cancer patients experiencing pain should be helped to adopt a more adaptive coping with the disease by identifying more accurately the source of their feelings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)644-650
Number of pages7
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2007


  • Alexithymia
  • Cancer
  • Coping
  • Illness behavior
  • Pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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