Pain After Childhood Cancer: A New Research Frontier

For the 1,000 Canadian children who are diagnosed with cancer every year, pain is a common experience. Pain (like headaches or bone pain) can be an initial symptom of cancer that alerts a child or their parents that something might be wrong. It is also often a side effect of cancer-related treatments such as needle pokes, surgery, chemo, and radiation. Children and their parents often say that pain is one of the most distressing parts about childhood cancer.
Today, about 80% of children with cancer are expected to survive. However, surviving cancer often brings new challenges for children and their families. Learning difficulties, physical changes, and the ongoing possibility that the cancer might come back are just a few examples. Recent research conducted by our team that studied pain in children with cancer and found that pain is a more common symptom for children who have completed treatment than what was previously believed. This research suggested that for many children, pain isn’t over when cancer ends. There are many possible reasons why pain might continue to be problematic for children with cancer after treatment, but these are not well understood.
We are happy to announce the launch of a new research program called Pain in Childhood Cancer Survivors, based at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Over the next few years, a team of researchers, oncology nurses and physicians, and patient representatives, and community organizations from across Canada and the U.S. will be working together to conduct research to better understand the experience pain after childhood cancer, and the different biological (e.g., medical variables), psychological (e.g., thoughts and feelings about cancer and pain), and social (e.g., the role of parents) factors that may play a role. This research, led by PhD student Perri Tutelman and Dr. Christine Chambers, will include interview studies and lab-based experimental studies to learn directly from childhood cancer survivors and their families about their experiences with pain after treatment. This research is made possible by a research grant from the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation.
We hope that this work will allow us to better understand the pain that some children experience after childhood cancer and the different factors that might contribute. This is the first step towards developing treatments to help. We are excited to be partnering with organizations, like Childhood Cancer Canada, to share updates on this work with the pediatric cancer community.
For more information on our research, follow the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research Facebook page, follow us on Twitter (@PerriTutelman, @DrCChambers), and check out our website:
Perri Tutelman is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology at Dalhousie University and the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research at the IWK Health Centre. Her research seeks to understand pain in children with cancer and the role of social media for sharing science with patients and their families.
Dr. Christine Chambers is a Registered Psychologist and Professor of Pediatrics and Psychology and Neuroscience at Dalhousie University and the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research at the IWK Health Centre. She holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Children’s Pain.