Pain Management

Massage Therapy Used to Combat Breast Cancer-Related Fatigue

cancer and massage therapyFatigue is the most common side effect of cancer treatment according to the National Cancer Institute. Many breast cancer survivors describe their fatigue as more intense than the feelings of being tired that we all experience from time to time. Reported characteristics include feeling tired, weak, worn-out, heavy, slow, or lack of energy and difficulty getting-up-and-going.

Currently, researchers from Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University are investigating the benefits of massage therapy on breast cancer survivors with extreme fatigue.

“We decided to look at massage therapy for cancer fatigue because cancer-related fatigue is one of the most prevalent and debilitating symptoms experienced by people with cancer,” explains Mark Rapaport, MD, principle investigator for this study. “Many studies investigating massage for patients with cancer have been focused on depression, anxiety or pain.”

“We already know that frequent massage can enhance the immune system and reduce anxiety, and it has been reported that massage therapy can stimulate energy, and reduce symptoms such as nausea and pain,” says Mylin Torres, MD, associate professor in Emory’s Department of Radiation Oncology, serves as a co-investigator on the study. “We believe that there are many positive effects to be gained by therapeutic massage and we hope to prove that, among other biological advantages, massage may diminish the incapacitation that cancer-related fatigue can cause for our patients.”

Participants in the six-week study are post-surgery breast cancer patients, between the ages of 18 and 65, who have been treated with standard chemotherapy, chemoprevention and/or radiation, and are suffering with breast cancer-related fatigue. They are broken into three groups.

  • Group one receives a typical Swedish-type massage
  • Group two does not receive a massage
  • Group three receives a light touch massage.

Throughout the clinical trial, participants’ vital signs are taken and blood drawn to check for immune markers. The study staff also regularly checks in with each participant to record any changes in their life or their health. So far, the findings are promising.

View this Fox21 news clip to learn more about recent findings from the cancer fatigue trial!

 

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Working During Cancer Treatment

Working with CancerTo work, or not to work, during cancer treatment is often a very real decision that patients must make. Some patients need to continue working during treatment for financial support, or to keep their insurance coverage, or just an overall desire to continue working. Working during treatment can be difficult depending on the type of treatment a patient receives, but also on the type of work a patient does. For example, a patient who can work from home may be able to continuing working whereas a patient with a job that requires more physical demands may be unable to continue working. Here are a few things to remember when working during cancer treatment:

  • Discuss your job situation with your medical team. It is important for your medical team to be aware of your desire or need to work during treatment. This may help in determining a treatment schedule that works best for you in order to continue working. Also, discussing the type of work you do with your medical team will allow them to provide you with appropriate information about how your treatment may affect your ability to perform the duties of your job.
  • Depending on your level of comfort, talk with your employer or human resource department about your diagnosis and treatment schedule. This will allow you to discuss any accommodations you may need in order to complete your job tasks. This is also an opportunity to discuss the possibility of working from home.
  • Consider utilizing the Family Medical Leave Act, if you are eligible. This important legislation was put in place in order to protect patients when they must leave work in order to receive medical care. Consult your human resources department for additional guidance in determining if you are covered through this.
  • Consult your human resource department regarding possible short-term or long-term disability benefits you may have available. There may be times in which patients are unable to work due to lengthy hospitalizations or because their medical team advises against it. In instances such as these, you may consider utilizing your short-term and long-term disability benefits in order to continue receiving some income.
  • If you are comfortable, talk with your coworkers about your diagnosis and treatment. Coworkers can be a strong source of support and encouragement during these difficult times. This may also help in developing a work schedule that works for you during treatment.
  • Talk with the social worker at your oncology office. Social workers may be able to help problem solve any concerns or issues you may be having with your employer.

Although working during cancer treatment may be challenging, it does not have to be impossible. Just talking with others about this may help you get the assistance you need.

About Joy McCall, LCSW

Joy McCallJoy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.

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Chronic Pain Lingers For Some Postoperative Breast Cancer Patients

Chronic Neuropathic Pain Postoperative Breast Cancer

Different surgical procedures come with varying levels of risk for post-surgical pain during the healing process. Regardless of the surgery type, postoperative pain is not uncommon. For women who undergo surgery to treat breast cancer, however, postoperative pain and/or numbness can greatly affect a patient’s quality of life. This pain, which can be encountered after a mastectomy, is characterized by a constant, achy, stinging, burning sensation around the surgical area near the chest or underarms.

 Before having surgery to remove cancerous breast tumors, women typically undergo what’s called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. Sentinel lymph nodes, as described by the National Cancer Institute are, “the first lymph node(s) to which cancer cells are most likely to spread from a primary tumor.” Chronic underarm pain after surgery (as opposed to chest pain) is more common among women who have had their lymph nodes removed rather than a sentinel lymph node biopsy alone.

Often, chronic pain among breast cancer patients is related to nerve damage that occurs via surgical and/or radiation treatment. Although the painful side effects from surgery typically subside in 3 months for most women, some women experience pain for months or even years after treatment.

To ease the recovery process after surgery, physicians often treat patients with postoperative pain with a multi-modal approach including physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, neuropathic pain medications, and sometimes narcotics. Alternative techniques such as massage and acupuncture can also help reduce pain and tenderness for some patients.

Interventional Pain Physicians can also help to reduce this pain via injections, including thoracic epidurals and intercostal nerve blocks. Both of these involve placing local anesthetic and steroid around the nerves, which stabilizes cell membranes and decreases inflammation and swelling. Doing so helps to decrease ectopic neural discharge and thus provide pain relief.

About Josephine Clingan MD, Physician Pain Specialists at Saint Joseph’s Hospital:
After attending MCG Medical School, Dr. Clingan completed  both her residency in Anesthesiology, and her fellowship in Interventional Pain Management at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.
She joined Physician Pain Specialists, at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, in 2011 and loves her patients!

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