Breakthrough to reduce “asbestos” cancer pain

15th March 2016 12:00

15th March 2016

From today (Wednesday, 15 March) The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow will be the first in Scotland to offer a cordotomy surgical procedure to patients experiencing overwhelming pain. 

With funding coming from Beatson Cancer Charity, the cordotomy procedure will help disable very fine pain-conducting fibres within the spinothalamic tract of the spinal cord in order to remove the sensation of severe pain. 

A specialised needle is inserted in the neck then uses radio frequency to “burn” targeted very fine pain nerves without affecting other nerves in the body. The procedure requires seven surgical theatre staff, takes less than an hour, and can transform the quality of a patient’s life. 

The most commonly treated cancer is asbestos related Mesothelioma which is most common in areas with a history of shipbuilding. Until now the only other two clinical centres in the UK have been in Liverpool and Portsmouth where Mesothelioma are more common. 

Dr Margaret Owen, consultant in anaesthesia and pain medicine with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, has been training for the last year in Portsmouth in order to offer cordotomies in Scotland. Dr Owen has worked extensively with the theatre team to develop a service which will delivered to a very high standard. 

To be eligible for the procedure, patients will be referred by a palliative medicine consultant if they are experiencing overwhelming cancer related pain or unbearable side effects as a result of their cancer pain medications. Patients deemed suitable will then be seen in an assessment clinic where it will be decided if a cordotomy is the most appropriate procedure. 

The Beatson is the only centre in Scotland where palliative medicine and chronic pain staff run a joint service. Dr Alison Mitchell, the lead consultant for interventional cancer pain service (ICPS), has been central to the work with colleagues to develop the cordotomy service at the Beatson. 

Dr Mitchell said: 

“We have operated an interventional cancer pain service at the Beatson for the last 10 years and have been working over the last six years to be in a position where we can offer a cordotomy service here to patients experiencing severe pain due to cancer. 

“Until now patients who have been assessed in Glasgow suitable for a cordotomy procedure have been referred to Liverpool, However, this risks excluding a number of patients who are unfit, or do not wish, to travel.  

“By offering this service at The Beatson we will be able to offer this procedure to many more patients aiming to significantly improve their quality of life.” 

Dr Jennifer Armstrong, NHSGGC medical director, said: 

“This is another example of the determined efforts of our staff to deliver targeted clinical care and technological advancement to those who will benefit from it.” 

Beatson Cancer Charity has provided funding of £35,461 in total towards maintaining a database and a radiofrequency machine while Mesothelioma UK has provided funding towards the purchase of equipment, reconfiguring the theatre table and upgrading the image intensifier machine.  

The charity provides funding to various individuals and institutions involved in the care and investigation of cancer, including the NHS, in line with the charity’s funding policy in the furtherance of its objectives.