As the nation prepares to honor its military this Veteran’s Day, physician-scientists at Loma Linda University Cancer Center’s (LLUCC’s) James M. Slater, MD, Proton Treatment & Research Center are studying how proton therapy can be used to help relieve chronic pain afflicting hundreds of thousands of U.S. military service members and veterans.
According to a report from the Institute of Medicine, nearly 100 million American adults suffer from chronic pain with that ailment disproportionately affecting those who have served or are serving in the military. In fact, according to a June 2014 report in JAMA Internal Medicine, 44 percent of U.S. military veterans suffered with chronic pain compared to 26 percent of the general public. In addition to the tragic pain, suffering and emotional toll to these veterans and their families, this costs the American healthcare system $635 billion per year.
“Our study is focusing on the nerve areas where the pain is coming from. We are targeting those areas with proton beam radiation to neutralize the pain so the brain doesn’t interpret it as a painful area,” said Jerry D. Slater, MD, chairman and medical director of the LLUCC Department of Radiation Medicine and James M. Slater, MD, Proton Treatment & Research Center. “We hope that by neutralizing the pain, we can help decrease the need for pain medication, which not only is expensive, but can also have disabling side effects.”
Many U.S. service members and veterans with pain also have related conditions such as post-traumatic stress syndrome or traumatic brain injury; and as the JAMA report also noted, many of these individuals are at risk for a lifetime progression of increasing disability. Without less-costly and effective pain management solutions, it’s estimated that costs related to care and disability will approach $5 trillion.
Proton beams are specifically programmed to reach the exact depth needed to release their maximum energy, which targets only the designated treatment area while sparing surrounding healthy tissue. As a result, the treatment benefits are significantly maximized while unwanted side effects are greatly reduced.
Loma Linda is the only proton center in the world researching proton’s effect on relieving chronic pain. “We salute our nation’s veterans and thank them for their years of service for our country,” Dr. Slater said. “Through this study we hope to ameliorate the chronic pain that affects so many veterans so they can truly enjoy the life they fought so hard to preserve.”