Join Clinical Trials for Cancer Pain Management
Cancer can be a painful disease, both emotionally and physically. One out of every three people who undergo cancer treatment will experience physical pain. Moreover, individuals with advanced cancer have an even higher chance of experiencing pain. Regardless of where you are in terms of your cancer staging, diagnosis, and treatment, the pain that arises as a result can make living life difficult.
Tumors have the potential to press on nerves, bones, or organs and in doing so, result in pain. Cancer-related pain can also arise due to chemicals that the tumors release into the body. Finally, various treatments for cancer (including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery) can also have painful side effects.
If you have cancer and are experiencing pain, effectively managing that pain is likely to be high on your list of priorities. Research is constantly looking at new and more effective ways to manage cancer pain, and clinical trials can often provide you with access to those ways.
What Will Cancer Pain Management Clinical Trials Be Like?
If surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are unable to decrease the tumor burden and adequately relieve cancer-related pain, pain medications can generally help to relieve pain.
Examples of these types of medications include over the counter pain medications (Tylenol, Advil, etc.), weak opium-derived (i.e., opioid) prescription painkillers (e.g., codeine), and stronger opioid prescription painkillers (e.g., morphine, OxyContin, fentanyl). Other therapeutic measures, such as massage, exercise, and psychotherapy may also be utilized in clinical trials designed to address cancer-related pain.
The types of tests and assessments used in a cancer pain management clinical trial will depend on which of these therapeutic options (i.e., medications, psychotherapy) are being investigated.
Although there are a few basic tests and procedures you may receive, the ultimate design of the particular study will determine which specific procedures you will undergo. Below are a few possible components of cancer pain management clinical trials:
- Physical exam
- If the study is evaluating a new type of medication or vaccine, blood and/or urine tests may be performed to monitor how your body metabolizes the medication or how effectively your body has responded to the vaccine.
- Pain and quality of life assessments (either online, using pen-and-paper, or over the phone with a research nurse) to evaluate the intensity of your pain, how your cancer pain is impacting your life, and/or how your pain is improving in response to the treatment
- For medication-related trials, you may be asked to keep a medication diary and/or bring your pill bottles in to your clinic visits so that pills may be counted. These activities help researchers observe how compliant you are with taking your medication
Typical Cancer Pain Management Clinical Trial Protocol:
Currently, research related to cancer pain management is extensive. Specific examples of clinical trials might include the following:
- A study that utilizes in-home visits from a research nurse to educate and coach cancer patients about successful self-management of pain through behavioral interventions.
- A study that evaluates how a newly-developed synthetic opioid medication controls pain due to bone metastases when compared to a standard opioid therapy.
- A study that evaluates how patients’ reluctance to ask doctors for additional pain medication impacts pain level and psychological status.
- A study that evaluates the symptoms associated with treatment for cancer-related pain.
A brief word about randomized trials and placebos:
Many clinical trials involve the comparison of an investigational treatment to a “standard” treatment. Some studies determine which therapy a patient receives through a process known as randomization, in which patients are randomly assigned to receive either the investigational treatment or the standard treatment.
On occasion, a trial will investigate the use of a standard treatment plus a new drug compared to standard treatment plus a placebo. Placebos are inactive or “sham” treatments that are identical in appearance to the active treatment but have no therapeutic value.
Placebos are necessary to help determine if adverse effects that occur during the clinical trial are the result of the investigational treatment or due to some other factor. They also allow researchers to measure the effects of the active treatment and observe what would have happened without it.
In rare instances where no standard therapy exists, or when a new drug is being evaluated for the first time in a specific cancer, the investigational treatment might be compared to a placebo alone. In these types of trials, those patients who are randomized to the placebo group do not receive an active treatment.
This is rarely done in cancer clinical trials; however it may occasionally be necessary from a scientific standpoint. Placebo-only trials will only be done when ethically appropriate and when patients have been adequately informed that they may end up receiving the placebo rather than the active treatment.
It is very important to note, however, that no one should ever participate in such a placebo trial when there is a widely available and highly effective standard treatment already in existence for their particular type of cancer and clinical situation.
Trial Eligibility and Medical Information Needed:
The type of clinical trial you may be eligible for often depends on many factors, including your disease stage, treatment history, and a variety of clinical findings. Therefore, it is important to know many details pertaining to your specific diagnosis when searching for clinical trials. Examples of the details you will want to have on hand include:
- The name, location, size, stage, and cell type of your cancer, as well as the locations of any metastases you have. Also know these details for any prior cancer you have had.
- Know your performance status, which estimates how well you perform normal activities of daily living. Examples: Karnofsky Performance Scale (KPS) and the ECOG scale.
- Know your treatment history, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and/or surgery.
- Know your blood cell counts, liver function test results, and kidney function test results.
Additional Suggested Search Terms:
“interventional cancer pain management,” “cancer pain management opioid,” “cancer pain management alternative therapies,” “cancer pain management clinical trials,” and “cancer pain management techniques.”
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