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Cancer Pain: Anesthesiology Options

One way to recover from cancer pain is through anesthesiology pain treatment through the Michigan Medicine Back & Pain Center.

The U-M Back & Pain Center offers a variety of different treatments for cancer pain. For example, a spinal cord stimulator implant, an intrathecal pump implant or a nerve block.

What sorts candidates are best for anesthesiology treatment?

If the patient has one painful area, they are a better candidate for this treatment. Anesthesiology only treat pains that are in one focal point. For example, pain resonating from one or two limbs.

Also, anesthesiology treatment candidates have tried conservative treatments and had them fail. For example, they have tried oral medications and but experienced side effects that negatively affected their quality of life. For example, sedation.

This treatment doesn’t cover joint pain, such as arthritis. It also doesn’t cover multiple painful focal points. For example, four limbs.

What is spinal cord stimulation and what does it entail?

Spinal cord stimulation uses electrical pulses to prevent pain signals from being received by the brain.

Spinal cord stimulation starts with a trail implantation. Here, insulated wire leads are inserted through a small incision. Electrodes at the end of the lead produce electrical pulses that stimulate the nerves, blocking pain signals. During this, the patient helps the physician by giving feedback. They share where they feel tingling in order to help the physician determine the best location for the stimulator to block the patient’s pain. The patient then gets the stimulator placed for one week.

The patient has this week to decide if the stimulator will help them. If so, they can get the system permanently implanted. The permanent implantation may be performed while the patient is under sedation of general anesthesia.

Who is the common candidate for spinal cord stimulation?

Spinal cord stimulation candidates include people who suffer from neuropathic pain (a tingly, numb feeling in toes, feet, fingers and hands) and for whom conservative treatments have failed.

What is an intrathecal pump implant and what does it entail?

An intrathecal pump relieves chronic pain. It uses small amounts of medicine applied directly to the intrathecal space (the area surrounding the spinal cord) to prevent pain signals from being perceived by the brain.

A catheter is inserted through a needle or small incision into the intrathecal space while the patient is under a local anesthetic. The catheter is connected to a temporary pump. The system is used for several days to see if it helps the patient.

If the system helps the patient over their trial, a permanent system can be implanted. The implanting of the permanent system is usually done under general anesthesia.

Who is the common candidate for an intrathecal pump implant?

Pump candidates include people whom conservative treatments have failed and surgery is not likely to help.

What is a nerve block?

A nerve block is an injection to the source of the pain.

How big of a time commitment are these treatments?

Most of the treatments are a one or two time sitting. If the patient is getting a spinal cord stimulation or an intrathecal pump implant, they usually come in twice (one time to get the trial implanted and a second time to get the permanent system, if wanted).

A nerve block is usually a one-time injection.

To make an appointment, you will need a referral from your medical team. Most patients are referred to anesthesiology when different treatments (such as medication) are not working. Once referred, patients have an office meeting at the U-M Back & Pain Center to discuss the best choice of treatment.

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