Pain, Pain...Go Away

- Fri., Oct. 21, 2011
- Contributed Photo

After 56-year-old Daphne Groos was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But the pain was just beginning.

“My doctor offers no concrete remedies for what has at times been debilitating pain in my joints, muscles and bones, especially while I was taking an aromatase inhibitor,” says Groos, who lives in Manhattan. She turned to acupuncture in June 2010.

“One reason cancer patients seek out acupuncture for pain rather than traditional painkillers is that it does not create dependence, there are no side effects to contend with and with regular application, the effects last longer than the short-term effects of medication,” says MaryJo Johnson, a licensed acupuncturist who treats cancer survivors and others in her Manhattan acupuncture, herbology and massage practice.

Some cancer patients are also attracted to the increasing number of medical studies illustrating the impact of these treatments. Even the prestigious National Cancer Institute and other NIH institutes and centers are supporting research in the efficacy of other alternative treatments for cancer pain, such as soy rich diets for chronic post breast cancer pain, impact of Chinese herbal formulas and the effects of acupuncture on chemotherapy induced pain, says Dr. Ann O’Mara, head of palliative care research in the Division of Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md.

Meanwhile, doctors like Carol L. Roberts in Tampa, Fla., have been finding success with a variety of alternative treatments for cancer pain. “I recommend acupuncture a lot. Yoga, conscious breathing and meditation, by improving body awareness and relaxation, allow the mind to soften and relax around the pain. This diminishes the contribution of fear and resistance to the pain signal,” says Roberts, medical director of Holistic Medical Associates.

Experts say the pain varies with the type of cancer. Cancer causes pressure symptoms in almost any tissue, especially when the capsule of an organ is being eroded or stretched, Roberts says. It also invades all kinds of tissues, most
notably bone and nerve tissue. Bone pain is especially painful, since bones do not expand or “give” as a soft tissue would. Nerve pain can be the most excruciating pain, since it affects the sensory system directly. Shooting pains, burning pains and numbness can coexist, Roberts says.

“Homeopathic remedies act in a way that is very different from the drugs and medicines we are used to,” she says. “They are energy modalities and work more like music to energize the body and address specific problems. For cancer pain they may not do the whole job, but if it cuts down on the pain by 50 percent, well, that’s a good thing.”

And for those who think pain is all in the mind, there is hypnosis. “Hypnosis has been used successfully in many areas of oncology,” says Dr. Ellyn Gamberg, a licensed psychotherapist and certified hypnotherapist in New York City. “The largest body of research concludes that patients with metastatic breast cancer benefitted from self-hypnosis and from participation in group support.”
Which form of complementary or alternative treatment for cancer pain is best? That depends in part on the type of cancer, experts say.

The first step to relieving cancer pain is for patients to be willing to explore the alternatives.“My patients tend to be more involved in their own treatment choices than most,” Roberts says. “They come to me because they want to know what other choices for pain management and treatment they have.”

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