By: Dr. Heather Tick
Using both the data of modern science and the time-proven traditions of complementary medicine, Dr. Heather Tick M.D. has helped tens of thousands of patients reach their peak levels of health over the past 30 years. She is the first holder of the prestigious Gunn-Loke Endowed Professorship of Integrative Pain Medicine at the University of Washington and serves at the forefront of research and teaching as a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington in the departments of Family Medicine and Anesthesia & Pain Medicine.
If you are dealing with both cancer and chronic pain, you are not alone. Here's why cancer pain management is important for many people.
Doctors prescribe many different cancer drugs and they all work in different ways. Some are cytotoxic kill cells. Others interfere with the development of new blood vessels needed by tumors to grow, and yet others damage the microtubules that cancer cells use when they multiply. The problem is that each of these mechanisms affect healthy cells as well, including nerve cells. When nerve cells are disturbed, the result may be pain. Chemotherapy cancer drugs can damage cells and cause pain, numbness, and abnormal sensations called dysesthesias. Radiation therapy is not a drug, but it can cause pain by damaging normal tissues around the cancer site. Of course, in most cases, the decision to treat cancer should outweigh the possibility of pain. Here are some strategies for cancer pain management.
4 Strategies for cancer pain management
Acupuncture has been around for at least five thousand years and is part of a larger system of medicine called Traditional Chinese Medicine. Treatments entail the use of fine needles to change your flow of energy called chi, along energy pathways, called meridians. For a long time, Western medicine has tried to find physical structures that correspond to meridians – structures that carry energy the same way arteries carry blood or nerves carry electrical impulses. Although this search has been in vain, some evidence of the existence of meridians has been found on functional MRIs.
Harvard's Herbert Benson described the “relaxation response” when he studied Tibetan monks who could change their body functions, lower their blood pressure and heart rate, and raise their own temperature just by meditating. He realised that as a cardiologist, he could sometimes provide better care to his patients by teaching Tibetan Buddhist meditation than by more drastic cardiac interventions.
Meditation changes your body chemistry and brings your body's rhythms into sync with one another. There are many different types of meditation. Some use concentration: you focus your mind on only one thing, such as a sound or mantra. Some employ mindfulness: you quiet your mind by excluding outside thoughts and plans, and you focus on the awareness of everything you are experiencing in that moment and from moment to moment. Any moment in your life can be mindful if you clear your mind of the daily clutter and attend to it.
Here is a meditation exercise you can try. Food tastes better when you give your taste buds a chance to really experience the food. Try to choose one meal in your day when you eat your food mindfully.
Take your plate of food and sit down comfortably. Take a moment to look at the colors of your food. Then smell the aromas. Take a forkful of food, and before you put it into your mouth, hold it close to your mouth and see if you can already “taste” it. Then slowly put it into your mouth and feel the texture. Begin to chew slowly. Chew for twice as long as you ordinarily would. Then swallow and wait a moment before you decide which morsel of food you will pick up next.
Notice the different aromas, tastes, and textures and continue eating this way until you are full.
Enjoy your fish. Omega-3 fatty oils likely reduce inflammation in your body, a key factor in cancer pain management. Omega-3 oils may also reduce tumor growth and cause cancer cells to wither.
We don't know if eating lots of fish oil supplements will reverse cancer. We do know, however, that eating fatty fish regularly boosts your immune system. Some patients who regularly consume omega-3 oils seem to cope better with chemotherapy. The American diet contains much less omega-3 than early human diets. Grill some salmon or enjoy some tuna twice a week.
Chew on this
In healing, often the slow, steady approach is the most effective. Many patients are eager to have the solution that will get rid of their pain in a week, or as quickly as possible. That's understandable. Your immune system, however, is like a tree. It needs to time to grow and to slowly absorb nutrients, but with time it will thrive. Eat well and live well. Cancer pain management is possible.