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Scrambling away pain for cancer patients

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - 02:31

Researchers are testing a device called the Scrambler which ''re-trains'' the brain to alleviate chronic pain caused by chemotherapy treatment. Ben Gruber reports.

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STORY: Karen Safranek is a survivor. Thirteen years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but after intensive chemotherapy treatment, was declared cancer free. It was good news..but while the cancer was gone, the treatment had triggered a severe case of peripheral neuropathy, a debilitating condition that causes chronic pain. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KAREN SAFRANEK, CANCER SURVIVOR, SAYING: "On a scale of 1 to 10 it was like a 12. It was excruciating pain. Like my feet and legs were on fire and, it's so hard to describe, because they felt so painful and yet they were numb." ..and it's a condition that won't go away. Dr. Charles Loprinzi of the Mayo clinic says peripheral neuropathy occurs when the brain sends pain signals to damaged nerves in a constant cycle. He says it's a common side-effect of chemotherapy that's difficult to treat. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. CHARLES LOPRINZI, PROFESSOR OF BREAST CANCER RESEARCH, MAYO CLINIC, SAYING: "It's a major problem from a number of chemotherapy drugs, probably the most prominent problem we have these days. For some it limits the amount of chemotherapy we can give and for some that get the chemotherapy it gets better afterwards, but for some it stays there and can be a persistent problem for years." That was the case for Karen Safranek. For her, the pain was so severe she could barely walk. But then learned of a clinical trial at the Mayo Clinic that was testing a new device called the Scrambler, and she signed on without hesitation.. The machine, which resembles a large car battery, is designed break the pain cycle. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. CHARLES LOPRINZI, PROFESSOR OF BREAST CANCER RESEARCH, MAYO CLINIC, SAYING: "You put electrodes on those nerves and you give them different electrical signals and those different electrical signals kind of re-train the brain and say really this isn't pain." After her first treatment Karen says scrambler therapy started working. After four treatments, the pain she had endured for more than a decade was gone. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KAREN SAFRANEK, CANCER SURVIVOR, SAYING: "It was so incredible that I hadn't felt pain free for so many years that I guess I didn't expect it to last. It's working right now but I don't know if it will be this way tomorrow." It's been a year since her scrambler therapy and Karen says the pain has not returned. Dr. Loprinzi says the Scrambler will not work for everyone, and that broader testing needs to be done…but eventually he says, it could be the key for many people, like Karen Safranek, to a life free of pain.

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Scrambling away pain for cancer patients

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - 02:31