Relieving Cancer Pain Is Priority

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By Laura Prus, Staff Writer

Regardless of the stage of their cancer, many patients experience moderate to severe pain. For physicians in M. D. Anderson's Pain Management Center, alleviating the pain caused by cancer is an imperative and integral part of care.

"In the past, cancer pain wasn't always recognized as a priority," says Allen Burton, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Pain Medicine and clinical medical director of the center. "Killing or arresting the cancer and treating the side effects of therapy, such as nausea, took precedence. Pain was something patients had to live with."

"Our message is that cancer pain is treatable," Burton says. "Maybe we can't take the pain away, but we can control it and improve a patient's quality of life. The depth and breadth of our experience, combined with our multidisciplinary approach and dedicated staff, offers cancer patients real hope in relieving their pain."
Managing pain at all levels

The Pain Management Center seeks to treat acute and chronic pain.

"The more effectively you treat someone's acute pain, the less likely the odds they're going to develop a long-term chronic pain syndrome," Burton says.

Patients with chronic pain are treated through medication and procedural interventions, physical rehabilitation and psychological counseling. Medications may include acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, opioids, antidepressants, antiepileptic drugs and steroids.

The Cancer Pain Service, which works with inpatients and outpatients, and the Postoperative Pain Service, which assists patients after surgery, also are available for patients without advanced-stage cancer or those who are in remission.

An award-winning team

A team of anesthesiologists, physical medicine and rehabilitation practitioners, neurologists, nurses, psychologists, social workers and chaplains provides patients with a full spectrum of care to reduce the burden of pain and improve their quality of life.

The Pain Management Center is staffed with clinicians who are trained and experienced in palliative care (symptom management), and who collaborate closely with the Supportive Care (Palliative Care) Center. They believe this background provides them with a better understanding of pain and makes them better clinicians.

In 2009, their work earned the American Pain Society Center of Excellence Award. It was the first time a cancer pain management center had been chosen.

Related story:
Cancer pain (podcast)

M. D. Anderson resource:

Pain management

Pain Management Center

Additional resources:

Pain (American Cancer Society)

Pain control (NCI)

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