Cancer Pain & Complementary Therapies
Often one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with a cancer diagnosis is living with the pain of the disease. Although a wide range of medications are available to treat cancer-related pain, they don’t always work for every patient, and they can have some pretty significant side effects.
Patients and their doctors are increasingly turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) techniques, such as massage, acupuncture, and herbal supplements to relieve cancer pain in conjunction with medication. These treatments not only have fewer adverse side effects than conventional pain drugs, but they are actually very effective at relieving pain and anxiety in cancer patients, according to a review of current research in the August 2007 issue of Current Pain and Headache Reports.*
“Complementary therapies are generally safe, non-invasive, and free of toxicity,” explains one of the authors, Jyothirmai Gubili, Assistant Editor in the Integrative Medicine Service of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “They can be used along with standard pain management techniques to improve outcomes and reduce the need for pain medication.”
The study reviewed several popular CAM therapies:
Turning to Complementary Care
CAM techniques are all relatively safe when administered by trained professionals, but they aren’t necessarily for everyone. For example, acupuncture carries a greater risk of bleeding or infection in people who have a low white blood cell count (neutropenia) or low blood platelets (thrombocytopenia). Herbal supplements can interact with chemotherapy drugs, reducing their effectiveness or increasing the potential for side effects. “We recommend that patients discuss their choices with their physicians before using any CAM therapies,” Gubili says.
Alimi D, et al. Analgesic Effect of Auricular Acupuncture for Cancer Pain: A Randomized, Blinded, Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology, November 2003;21:4120-4126.
Carson JW, et al. Yoga for women with metastatic breast cancer: results from a pilot study. J Pain Symptom Manage, March 2007;33:331-341.
Sloman R, et al. The use of relaxation for the promotion of comfort and pain relief in persons with advanced cancer. Contemp Nurse, March 1994;3:6-12.
Ellison N, et al. Phase III placebo-controlled trial of capsaicin cream in the management of surgical neuropathic pain in cancer patients. J Clin Oncol, August 1997;8:2974-2980.