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Karen O. Anderson, PhD, MPH

Present Title & Affiliation

Primary Appointment

Associate Professor, Department of Symptom Research, Division of Internal Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

Bio Statement

Dr. Anderson is a clinical psychologist with a background in research health psychology focused on behavioral assessment and treatment of chronic pain. Before joining the Department of Symptom Research in 1996, she served as a faculty member at Wake Forest University Medical Center and the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Her research interests include pain management for minority cancer patients, symptom assessment and treatment for blood and marrow transplantation patients, and laboratory studies of pain and its modulation using behavioral interventions.

Research Interests

Dr. Anderson recently coordinated a multisite study of pain relief education for minority outpatients with advanced cancer and pain. In previous studies by Dr. Charles Cleeland and the Department of Symptom Research, it was found that pain is managed poorly in minority patients. Our project began with studies designed to identify the specific educational needs of lower-income African-American and Hispanic patients with breast or prostate cancer who were experiencing cancer-related pain. On the basis of the results of our initial studies, we developed culture-specific patient-education materials, in both video and written formats, that are being tested in a multisite randomized clinical trial. Our project is based on the premise that patients who expect pain relief and are able to communicate their distress are able to elicit more responsive pain management from their health care providers.

Working with Dr. Sergio Giralt and others in the Department of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, we are studying the symptoms of patients with multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, or breast cancer who undergo autologous transplantations. This NCI-funded project uses a novel computer-based interactive voice-response system to assess patients' physical, affective, and cognitive symptoms during the year following transplantation. In a subsequent clinical trial, we will investigate the efficacy of providing symptom data from the interactive voice response system to the patients' physicians and nurses.

In laboratory studies of pain control methods, we are investigating the factors that modulate patients' perceptions of pain. In one series of studies, the Pain Research Group is examining the combined effects of a behavioral pain control intervention (e.g., distraction, positive mood induction) and oral morphine on pain tolerance and pain ratings in normal subjects. Although behavioral and pharmacologic interventions are often administered together, very little is known about how these pain control methods actually operate together. In collaboration with faculty members in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology, we are using functional MRI to assess changes in cortical activation associated with a painful stimulus and with oral morphine. We are also conducting a clinical trial to determine whether specific behavioral techniques will improve pain management in cancer patients who are taking oral opioids.

Office Address

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Department of Symptom Research
1515 Holcombe Boulevard
Unit Number: 1450
Houston, TX 77030
Room Number: FCT11.5082
Phone: (713) 745-3505
Fax: (713) 745-3475

Education & Training

Degree-Granting Education

2006 The University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, TX, MPH, Health Services
1983 University of Memphis, Memphis, TN, PHD, Clinical Psychology
1979 University of Memphis, Memphis, TN, MS, General Psychology
1972 Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, BA, Psychology

Postgraduate Training

1983-1984 Clinical Fellowship, Medical Psychology, Wake Forest University Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, Dr. Laurence Bradley

Selected Publications

Peer-Reviewed Original Research Articles

1. Reyes-Gibby CC, Anderson KO, Shete S, Bruera E, Yennurajalingam S. Early referral to supportive care specialists for symptom burden in lung cancer patients: a comparison of non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic blacks. Cancer 118(3):856-63, 2/1/2012. e-Pub 7/12/2011. PMCID: PMC3193905.
2. Meghani SH, Polomano RC, Tait RC, Vallerand AH, Anderson KO, Gallagher RM. Advancing a national agenda to eliminate disparities in pain care: directions for health policy, education, practice, and research. Pain Med 13(1):5-28, 1/2012. e-Pub 12/5/2011. PMID: 22142450.
3. Tan G, Teo I, Anderson KO, Jensen MP. Adaptive versus maladaptive coping and beliefs and their relation to chronic pain adjustment. Clin J Pain 27(9):769-74, Nov-Dec, 11/2011. PMID: 21593665.
4. Palos GR, Mendoza TR, Liao KP, Anderson KO, Garcia-Gonzalez A, Hahn K, Nazario A, Ramondetta LM, Valero V, Lynch GR, Jibaja-Weiss ML, Cleeland CS. Caregiver symptom burden: the risk of caring for an underserved patient with advanced cancer. Cancer 117(5):1070-9, 3/1/2011. e-Pub 10/19/2010. PMCID: PMC3065823.
5. Anderson KO, Green CR, Payne R. Racial and ethnic disparities in pain: causes and consequences of unequal care. J Pain 10(12):1187-204, 12/2009. PMID: 19944378.
6. Shelton ML, Lee JQ, Morris GS, Massey PR, Kendall DG, Munsell MF, Anderson KO, Simmonds MJ, Giralt SA. A randomized control trial of a supervised versus a self-directed exercise program for allogeneic stem cell transplant patients. Psychooncology 18(4):353-9, 4/2009. e-Pub 12/2008. PMID: 19117328.
7. Campagnaro E, Saliba R, Giralt S, Roden L, Mendoza F, Aleman A, Cleeland C, Weber D, Brown J, Anderson KO. Symptom burden after autologous stem cell transplantation for multiple myeloma. Cancer 112(7):1617-24, 4/1/2008. PMID: 18260091.
8. Tan G, Jensen MP, Thornby JI, Rintala DH, Anderson KO. Categorizing pain in patients seen in a Veterans Health Administration Hospital: pain as the fifth vital sign. Psychological Services 5(3):239-50, 2008.
9. Anderson KO, Giralt SA, Mendoza TR, Brown JO, Neumann JL, Mobley GM, Wang XS, Cleeland CS. Symptom burden in patients undergoing autologous stem-cell transplantation. Bone Marrow Transplant 39(12):759-66, 6/2007. PMID: 17438588.
10. Reyes-Gibby CC, Aday LA, Todd KH, Cleeland CS, Anderson KO. Pain in aging community-dwelling adults in the United States: non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks, and Hispanics. J Pain 8(1):75-84, 1/2007. e-Pub 9/1/2006. PMCID: PMC1974880.
11. Reyes-Gibby CC, Aday LA, Anderson KO, Mendoza TR, Cleeland CS. Pain, depression, and fatigue in community-dwelling adults with and without a history of cancer. J Pain Symptom Manage 32(2):118-28, 8/2006. PMCID: PMC1950719.
12. Anderson KO, Cohen MZ, Mendoza TR, Guo H, Harle MT, Cleeland CS. Brief cognitive-behavioral audiotape interventions for cancer-related pain: Immediate but not long-term effectiveness. Cancer 107(1):207-14, 7/1/2006. PMID: 16708359.
13. Anderson KO, Mendoza TR, Payne R, Valero V, Palos GR, Nazario A, Richman SP, Hurley J, Gning I, Lynch GR, Kalish D, Cleeland CS. Pain education for underserved minority cancer patients: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Oncol 22(24):4918-25, 12/15/2004. PMID: 15611506.


1. Anderson KO. Role of cutpoints: why grade pain intensity? Pain 113(1-2):5-6, 1/2005. PMID: 15621357.

Book Chapters

1. Anderson KO. Assessment of patients with cancer-related pain. In: Handbook of Pain Assessment, Third. Ed(s) DC Turk, R Melzack. Guilford Press: New York, 376-395, 2011.
2. Anderson KO. The assessment of cancer pain: measurement strategy. In: Cancer Pain: Assessment and Management, Second. Ed(s) ED Bruera, RK Portenoy. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 89-104, 2010.

Last updated: 6/6/2014