harnessing mind, body, and medicine
Cancer — and sometimes cancer treatment — can cause physical pain. The UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center offers a variety of medical treatments and non-drug alternatives to address pain associated with a cancer diagnosis. Pain specialist David Copenhaver provides insight into short- and long-term pain treatment and research at UC Davis.
What is the Center for Advancing Pain Relief and how will it affect patients with cancer?
A: The Center for Advancing Pain Relief is a multi-disciplinary consortium of experts from across UC Davis who study pain from different perspectives. As it relates to cancer, the center looks at unique and strategic approaches to finding novel medications, as well as for applying bio-psycho-social models of pain treatment. We do this by connecting groups of individuals in different disciplines who have not collaborated until now.
What kinds of collaborations do you envision?
A: Laboratory researchers interested in drug discovery can work with cancer center oncologists to bring early-phase, novel therapeutics to patients suffering from cancer-related pain being seen in the clinic, for example. Or, we might work with cancer surgeons ahead of an operation to educate patients about potential short- or long-term post-operative pain solutions. The goal is to provide a continuum of care so we are not judged solely on whether the entire tumor was removed or otherwise treated successfully, but on the success of the patient’s overall outcome.
Opioid drugs are often prescribed for pain associated with a cancer diagnosis, but the drugs can be very addictive. How can that be prevented?
A: For patients with the disease of addiction in addition to a cancer diagnosis we offer non-opioid strategies first – both pharmacological and interventional. Nerve pain, for example, can be blocked by ablating the small nerves in the lumbar spine. One class of anti-depressant medications, serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, as well as anti-convulsant therapy, also can afford substantial pain relief. And one opioid, buprenorphine, combined with naloxone, can treat both opioid addiction and cancer-related pain. All patients, regardless of a prior or existing addiction issue, need to be carefully monitored throughout their opioid pain therapy.
Besides pain control devices and drugs, are there other options for patients with cancer pain?
A: We are studying how pain affects the physics of the body and the psyche. Through the Center for Pain Medicine, we offer a cognitive behavioral program for patients to help them harness the mind to alleviate pain. Additionally, many of our patients participate in Art RX at Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. This is a special program in which museum docents lead patients through the exhibits at their own pace, allowing the patients what I call “healthy escapism” and reducing their sense of isolation. The center also works to get patients moving again with Tai Chi or yoga, as well as offering nutrition, sleep, mood and bowel-care support.