Pain affects many people who have cancer. But new study findings published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology suggest that a simple bedside chart could relieve these folks of this distressing problem, reports the University of Edinburgh.

In a collaborative effort, researchers and doctors from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland created the Edinburgh pain assessment and management tool (EPAT). Medical staff used the pen-and-paper chart to record a patient’s pain levels through a simple color-coded (“traffic light”) system.

For the study, patients were asked to rate their pain on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain imaginable). The chart then categorized pain scores according to color: 0 to 2 was gray, 3 to 4 was yellow and 5 to 10 was blue. For those with yellow and blue scores, doctors explored the location and nature of the pain, exacerbating and relieving factors, and symptoms that might be caused by opioids. Patients’ recorded responses then prompted clinicians to use the appropriate algorithm for prescribing medication.

Scientists used EPAT to assess pain levels in nearly 2,000 people with cancer over the course of five days. Results showed that cancer patients whose care included the use of the chart were more likely to report less pain than those who received only standard care. Researchers also found no association between use of the chart and higher doses of meds.

“These exciting findings show the important benefits of influencing doctors’ behaviors, rather than looking for more complex and expensive interventions,” said Marie Fallon, MD, of the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. “These findings are a positive step toward reducing the burden of pain for patients and making them as comfortable as possible at all stages of cancer.”

Although the study’s findings show promise for pain management in people with cancer, the study’s authors advise that further research be conducted to determine how the traffic light chart could work in the long term.

Click here to learn how acupuncture relieves joint pain caused by hormone therapy.