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Cancer Pain Relief

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

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May 29, 2002 -- For many people with cancer, the most debilitating and difficult-to-control symptom is unrelenting pain. Now, new research shows an implantable pump that delivers a steady stream of medication directly into the spinal fluid can effectively control pain, boosting patients' overall quality of life and even increasing survival.

In the international study, conducted at Johns Hopkins University, Medical College of Virginia, and 25 other locations, researchers looked at more than 200 people whose lung, breast, prostate, colon, pancreatic, or other cancer was causing pain that could not be fully controlled with oral drugs.

At the beginning of the study, the patients reported their perceived level of pain, as well as other symptoms including depression, fatigue, nausea, and constipation. Half of them then continued taking oral drugs while the others received the implanted device -- a hockey-puck sized disc inserted in the abdomen.

At the end of six months, not only were more of the implant patients still alive (54% vs. 37%), but they reported significant improvements in pain, depression, stomach woes, and other symptoms, compared with the oral drug group. Even their sex lives had improved.

"This challenges our thinking about how to treat cancer pain," says study co-leader Peter S. Staats, MD, from Johns Hopkins' Division of Pain Medicine, in a news release. "Normally, we give the patients pain medication, and if it doesn't work we'll resort to something else as a last-ditch effort." But these results suggest that early treatment with a more localized approach to pain relief may be more helpful, he says. "It presents a whole new paradigm in patient care."

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