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5 Articles in this Series
Introduction
Cannabinoids Offer Some Hope for Oral Cancer Pain
Does Emotional Recovery After Accidents Influence Chronic Pain?
Fear of Movement and Pain Affect Post-ACL Reconstruction Recovery
High Prevalence of Falls Among Elderly in Pain
There’s an App for That—Mobile Technology Meets Pain Management

Cannabinoids Offer Some Hope for Oral Cancer Pain

Oral cancer is one of the most painful conditions encountered by cancer patients. Unfortunately, today’s strongest pain medications are largely ineffective. While prospects for major treatment advances remain bleak, a new cannabinoid-based medication may have some promise for providing meaningful pain relief, reported Brian Schmidt, DDS, MD, PhD, a professor at New York University College of Dentistry and School of Medicine, during the APS Global Year Against Pain Lecture.1

Now considered to be the fastest increasing cancers in the United States, oral and oropharyngeal malignancies usually begin in the tongue. Human papillomavirus transmitted through oral sex, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption are the leading causes of this increase in oropharyngeal cancer. In the United States, approximately 43,000 new cases of oral cancer are diagnosed every year and worldwide there are 640,000 new cases a year. 
 
Dr. Schmidt said oral cancer patients often undergo multiple surgeries as tumors recur, as well as radiation and chemotherapy. The disease is difficult to diagnose at early stages and spreads quickly, leaving patients in intractable pain and unable to speak or swallow. “Our inability to effectively treat oral cancer stems from lack of knowledge. We know that cancer pain is caused by a unique biological mechanism, but more research is needed to develop medications that are effective in treating oral cancer pain,” Dr. Schmidt said. “The only way we can hope to reduce the devastating impact of oral cancer pain is to fund more research to help those who suffer or will suffer from this ruthless disease,” Dr. Schmidt told the APS audience. He added that half of oral cancer patients do not survive 5 years after diagnosis. 
 
Some good news is on the horizon, as clinical trials proceed with a drug produced from marijuana (Sativex). It is administered as an oral spray and shows promise for treating cancer pain. The drug is available in Canada and Europe for treating spasticity from multiple sclerosis and is in Phase 3 clinical trials in the United States for treatment of cancer pain. 
 
“While it’s too early to conclude the cannabinoid medication will provide effective cancer pain relief,” he said, “we do know that humans possess numerous cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body which regulate a significant amount of human physiology. So, there is hope that cannabinoid-based medications can become effective pain relievers for cancer patients.”
 
Reference
 
1. Schmidt B. The neurobiology of orofacial cancer pain. Presented at: American Pain Society 2014 Annual Meeting, Tampa, FL, April 30-May 3, 2014.
Next summary: Does Emotional Recovery After Accidents Influence Chronic Pain?
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