Couple strolls through park. Effective pain impacts a patient’s treatment, life, outlook and relationship with their family.

Pain Management Center is a repeat winner

For the second time in five years, MD Anderson’s Pain Management Center has been awarded the American Pain Society’s highest honor, making it the nation’s only pain service at a cancer center to receive the recognition.

First honored with the Clinical Centers of Excellence in Pain Management Award in 2009, the program is one of only a handful of hospitals and clinics to receive the award a second time.

In the past five years, the team in the Pain Management Center cared for more than 5,500 adult and pediatric patients experiencing acute and chronic pain as a result of their cancer, surgery, chemotherapy or other treatment, and other chronic non-cancer pain that can inhibit recovery. The center is home to a group of 35 physicians, midlevel providers, registered nurses, a social worker, a psychologist and others devoted exclusively to the many clinical and psychosocial needs of patients dealing with pain.

“There are many ways to treat pain, and it’s important to understand where the pain is originating, why it is occurring and if it is signaling a recurrence or spread of disease. But also important is the impact it has on a patient’s treatment, life, outlook and relationship with their family,” says Brian Bruel, M.D., an associate professor in Pain Medicine. “Our goal is always to see a patient as soon as they begin to develop symptoms because, like their cancer, that’s when we have the most options and greatest chance for the success. Plus we know that, if we can control a patient’s pain, they are more likely to do well with treatment.”

Working closely with Bruel and others in the Pain Management Center is psychologist Diane Novy, Ph.D., who sees up to 10 patients a day. They talk about how their pain is affecting their lives and families, not just their treatment. She also sees survivors still impacted by pain and patients facing end-of-life decisions.

Novy, a professor in Pain Medicine, says cancer pain is unlike any other pain because it’s often linked with uncertainty, recurrence, progression, loss of control and death. Pain can be associated with or magnified by depression and anxiety, so she works closely with patients and families to understand the influence pain may have on a patient’s daily life and their relationships.

“Pain is as individual as each person and each patient’s cancer experience,” Novy says, who’s been a part of the pain management team since 2001. “It’s vital that our team understands not just the physical aspects of a patient’s pain, but the psychological elements as well. We talk so much about treating the whole patient at MD Anderson, and this is a great example of that philosophy.”

The team works closely not only with MD Anderson colleagues in disease-specific clinics, but also with caregivers on inpatient units, collaborators in palliative care, researchers studying symptom management and side effects and practitioners in rehabilitation therapy and integrative medicine.

Since 2010, MD Anderson pain specialists have seen another 2,600 patients at locations in Bay Area, Katy, Sugar Land and The Woodlands. Just as MD Anderson has expanded its reach into communities with specialized oncology, surgery and radiation services, it also has provided patients greater access to cancer pain management and rehabilitation by placing specialists in the centers a couple of days a week.

“Being awarded this honor a second time is an extraordinary distinction for our patients, team and MD Anderson,” said Salahadin Abdi, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pain Medicine. “We appreciate that we have to earn this recognition every day with each patient we see, but it also reminds us that we also are called to find new solutions to give patients a better quality of life and function.”

Salahadin Abdi, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues hope to develop pain management based on research that shows genes are affected by injury, inflammation and/or nerve damage. (photo by Wyatt McSpadden)
Salahadin Abdi, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues hope to develop pain management based on research that shows genes are affected by injury, inflammation and/or nerve damage. (photo by Wyatt McSpadden)

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