Oral Cancer Pain Includes Thermal Allodynia That May Be Attenuated by Chronic Alcohol Consumption

Cara B. Gonzales, Jorge J. De La Chapa, Amol M. Patwardhan, Kenneth M. Hargreaves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Oral cancer is one of the most painful cancer types, and is often refractory to existing analgesics. Oral cancer patients frequently develop a tolerance to opioids, the mainstay of current cancer pain therapy, leaving them with limited therapeutic options. Thus, there is a great need to identify molecular mechanisms driving oral cancer pain in an effort to develop new analgesics. Previous reports demonstrate that oral cancer patients experience intense mechanical pain and pain in function. To date, no studies have examined thermal pain in oral cancer patients or the role that alcohol consumption plays in oral cancer pain. This study aims to evaluate patient-reported pain levels and thermal allodynia, potential molecular mechanisms mediating thermal allodynia, and the effects of alcohol consumption on patient-perceived pain. Methods: This study evaluated human oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) cell lines for their ability to activate thermosensitive channels in vitro and validated these findings in a rat model of orofacial pain. Patient-reported pain in a south Texas OSCC cohort (n = 27) was examined using a visual analog scale (VAS). Covariant analysis examined variables such as tobacco and alcohol consumption, ethnicity, gender, and cancer stage. Results: We determined that OSCC secretes factors that stimulate both the Transient Receptor Potential Ankyrin type 1 channel (TRPA1; noxious cold sensor) and the Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid type 1 channel (TRPV1; noxious heat sensor) in vitro and that OSCC-secreted factors sensitize TRPV1 nociceptors in vivo. These findings were validated in this cohort, in which allodynia to cold and heat were reported. Notably, subjects that reported regular alcohol consumption also reported lower pain scores for every type of pain tested, with significantly reduced cold-induced pain, aching pain, and burning pain. Conclusion: Oral cancer patients experience multiple types of cancer pain, including thermal allodynia. Alcohol consumption correlates with reduced OSCC pain and reduced thermal allodynia, which may be mediated by TRPA1 and TRPV1. Hence, reduced pain in these patients may contribute to a delay in seeking care, and thus a delay in early detection and treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number518
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • alcohol drinking habits
  • analog pain scale
  • cancer-related pain
  • oral squamous cell carcinoma
  • patient reported outcomes
  • thermal pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Drug Discovery


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