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Veterans with chronic pain might get relief from proton therapy

by Lee Nelson, Contributing Reporter | November 13, 2015
Population Health Proton Therapy
Those who have fought for our freedom continue to fight a battle with chronic pain. In fact, 44 percent of U.S. military veterans suffer with chronic pain compared to 26 percent of the general public, according to a report in the JAMA Internal Medicine last June.

So the physician-scientists at Loma Linda University Cancer Center’s James M. Slater MD Proton Treatment & Research Center, are studying how proton therapy can help ease their suffering.

“Through this study, we hope to ameliorate the chronic pain that affects so many veterans, so they can truly enjoy the life they fought so hard to preserve,” said Dr. Jerry D. Slater, chairman of the Loma Linda University Department of Radiation Medicine, which operates the proton treatment center. “We salute our nation’s veterans, and thank them for their years of service to our country.”

The study focuses on the nerve areas where each patient’s pain is coming from.

“We are targeting those areas with proton beam radiation to neutralize the pain so the brain doesn’t interpret it as a painful area," he said. "We hope that by neutralizing the pain, we can help decrease the need for pain medication, which is not only expensive, but can also have disabling side effects.”

Living with chronic pain can be as hard as what veterans faced in battle. It also costs the American health care systems $635 billion per year for the nearly 100 million adults afflicted with it.

Chronic pain is a big issue, and dozens of other research and medical facilities across the country are investigating some other novel and creative ways to ease sufferers’ hurting. For instance, on the database at ClinicalTrials.gov – a service from the U.S. National Institutes of Health – there is a listing of 3,491 studies for chronic pain. About 1,200 of them are open studies.

Research is being done by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston using Mind Body Syndrome (MBS) Therapy.

Another one, geared at adolescents and young adults at The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Canada, is trying to integrate a smartphone and web self-management program called iCanCope with Pain.

Participants from the first Gulf War who suffer from chronic pain are being evaluated by the V.A. Office of Research and Development to see the effect of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

When chronic pain sets in, the quality of life can diminish progressively. People complain that their relationships, jobs, sleep and overall attitude deteriorate.

The JAMA reported that many U.S. service members and veterans with pain also have conditions such as traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Without less expensive and more successful pain management answers, these veterans’ pain will progress, with more and more disabilities costing nearly $5 trillion, the Loma Linda physician-scientists said.

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