Phantom Limb Phenomena in Cancer Amputees


Luiz Claudio Santos Thuler, MD, MSc, PhD, Hospital Universitário Gaffrée e Guinle—Neurologia, Rua Mariz e Barros 775, Tijuca, 20270-004 Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil. E-mail:


Purpose:  The objective of this study was to determine the prevalence of phantom pain and correlated conditions such as phantom sensations and stump pain in a population of cancer patients who had undergone limb amputation.

Method:  A cross-sectional study was carried out in adult patients submitted to limb amputation, who were being followed up at the Physiotherapy Department between April 3 and November 30, 2006. The presence of phantom pain and associated conditions was quantified using a verbal numerical scale. The data obtained were analyzed for means, medians, and proportions with their respective confidence intervals, as appropriate.

Results:  Seventy-five patients participated in this study, 50 men (66.7%) and 25 women (33.3%). Mean age was 54.4 years (SD ± 18.5); range 19 to 88 years. The prevalence of phantom pain was 46.7% (95%CI: 35.1 to 58.6), phantom sensation 90.7% (95%CI: 81.7 to 96.2), and surgical stump pain 32.0% (95%CI: 21.7 to 43.8).

Conclusion:  Phantom pain and phantom sensations are highly prevalent among cancer patients. Further studies should be carried out to determine the main factors associated with their onset.