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Opioids are frequently used to treat the pain associated with cancer and its treatment. Yet research shows that opioid treatment fails to provide many cancer patients with sufficient pain relief.

At Atrium Health Levine Cancer we're helping manage pain – and lower the use of opioids – for people with cancer.

Integrative Oncology

Atrium Health has embraced integrative oncology, which uses safe, evidence-based complementary medicine alongside conventional cancer treatment to reduce chronic pain. This approach seeks to improve the mind, body, and spirit through nonpharmacologic, non-invasive, and non-surgical treatments such as acupuncture, healing touch, and oncology massage.

  • Acupuncture involves placement of very thin needles at specific points of a patient's body to relieve pain and other physical and psychological symptoms like fatigue and anxiety.
  • Healing touch uses light, sweeping hand motions to balance energy that has been disrupted due to stress, illness, injury, grief, or medical treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Oncology Massage, where therapists apply gentle pressure and kneading of patients' muscles and joints, helps reduce pain associated with cancer and the side effects of drug treatments.

All acupuncture, healing touch, and oncology massage practitioners at Levine Cancer have specialized training in working with patients who have or have had cancer.

Recent institute research has documented the benefits of healing touch and oncology massage in cancer patients experiencing pain. A study of 572 Levine Cancer patients receiving healing touch or oncology massage reported significantly reduced pain, with at least a 2-point reduction in pain scores on a scale from 0=no pain to 10=worst pain possible. Our endorsement of these and other effective pain management techniques aims to reduce the number of cancer patients at risk for developing an opioid addiction, while also addressing pain management needs in a holistic manner.


Levine Cancer is currently undertaking groundbreaking research to examine how cancer patients' genetic makeup influences their response to opioids and their future risk of addiction. This includes genetic testing of patients to determine the most appropriate opioid therapy, an examination of how risk screenings such as the Screener and Opioid Assessment in Patients with Pain could be better customized to fit the specific profiles of cancer patients, and whether genetic markers could play a role in predicting future opioid use disorders.