Karen Syrjala helps write national cancer-pain guidelines

Dr. Karen Syrjala
National pain guidelines were written in part by the Hutch's Dr. Karen Syrjala. Photo by Michelle Hruby

A new set of guidelines for cancer-pain treatment was co-written by Dr. Karen Syrjala, director of Biobehavioral Sciences at the Hutch.

The publication, "Cancer Paint Treatment Guidelines for Patients," is produced by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, of which the Hutchinson Center is a member, and the American Cancer Society.

"Patients have a right to pain assessment and appropriate treatment," Syrjala said. "These guidelines will facilitate the process of informed decision-making by patients in collaboration with physicians and help assure that patients achieve the best possible pain relief.

"Most pain can be substantially reduced or eliminated, and patients can be made more comfortable during their battles with cancer. We've proven that with our research. But good relief of pain takes the active participation of patients in their pain treatment. A few simple communication tools can make all the difference in how well pain is treated."

About one-third of U.S. cancer patients suffer from significant pain. This number rises above two-thirds when cancer is advanced. Pain can affect a patient in many ways. It can cause a reduction in activity, prevent sleep, add to fatigue, reduce interest in socializing, and inhibit eating.

Pain can also make a patient feel afraid and depressed.

Misperceptions about the likelihood of drug addiction and abuse among cancer patients have prompted some patients to avoid appropriate pain control.

Rarely addicted

"Reactions to disturbing media coverage of drug addicts and painkiller abuse may ironically interfere with important efforts to appropriately manage cancer patients' pain," Syrjala said. "In fact, when pain medicines are given and taken appropriately, patients rarely become addicted to them."

To order a free copy the publication, call the network at 888-909-NCCN or the cancer society at 800-ACS-2345. Requests by e-mail can be made to patientinformation@nccn.org.

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