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New research into ongoing pain experienced by childhood cancer survivors

On World Cancer Day 2023 we're sharing our new funding of vital research into cancer pain

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Thanks to advances in treatment, there’s now an 80 per cent survival rate for childhood cancers. However, survivors often face a lifetime of physical and psychological health challenges, and there's an urgent need to understand more about causes and treatment of ongoing pain.

We're investing over £550,000 into new research on child and adolescent cancer pain.

These projects will explore the impact of chemotherapy on long-term pain, and test new approaches to alleviate pain in childhood cancer survivors.

Cancer pain

Pain is one of the most common ongoing symptoms among childhood cancer survivors, with over 50 per cent reporting pain and many reporting chronic pain.

Chemotherapy, a cancer treatment used to kill cancer cells, can also damage pain-sensing nerves. These changes in nervous system development in childhood can increase pain sensitivity in adulthood and affect cognition, mood and quality of life.

Our Research grants in Child and Adolescent Cancer Pain are designed to support research that will increase understanding of child and adolescent cancer pain, and improve diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Over 50%

of childhood cancer survivors report ongoing pain symptoms

While finishing cancer treatment is something to celebrate, it can also bring new challenges for the child and their family. It is vital that we can offer evidence-based support and treatment programmes for young survivors to help them manage ongoing pain after cancer.
Dr Lauren Heathcote
Headshot of Lauren Heathcote from KCL

Alleviating pain in childhood cancer survivors

Dr Lauren Heathcote, King's College London

Pain treatment in cancer currently focuses on alleviating the pain during active cancer, but there’s almost no tailored treatment approaches to alleviate post-cancer pain in children and adolescents.

Using this funding, Dr Heathcote and her team will develop and test one of the first behavioural interventions to alleviate the impact of pain and improve wellbeing in childhood cancer survivors.

Dr Heathcote will work closely with childhood cancer survivors, and their parents, to develop an intervention consisting of animated videos and reflection exercises.

They aim to use this method to teach children about the biopsychosocial nature of pain (an interaction between biological, psychological and social factors), normalise worrying about pain after cancer, and help shift children towards more adaptive mindsets about their body.

Dr Heathcote will then conduct a pilot trial to establish if this new intervention approach is helpful at reducing the impact of pain.

This could provide a highly accessible and scalable approach to helping childhood cancer survivors cope with pain, which would, in turn, improve their quality of life.

Pain in childhood cancer patients and survivors reduces life experiences, educational attainment, and quality of life. Our project will shed new light on how cancer and cancer treatment reprogrammes the maturing nervous system and identify routes to new treatments.
Dr Gareth Hathway
Dr Gareth Hathway from the University of Nottingham

Understanding the impact of brain cancer chemotherapy on pain

Dr Gareth Hathway, University of Nottingham

Childhood survivors of brain cancers, such as medulloblastoma, are more likely to suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, and depression in adulthood.

Recent research has shown that the pain response to cancer drugs is different in those that have a tumour versus those who do not.

Cancer chemotherapies typically work to stop cells dividing. This process causes cancer cells to release extracellular vesicles (EVs), small particles which are dispersed into the surrounding tissue.

We’re funding Dr Hathway, whose multidisciplinary team will investigate EVs released from tumours, and its effects on both short-term and long-term pain in children with medulloblastoma.

This research could significantly advance understanding of cancer pain in early life.

Find out more about our Research grants in Child and Adolescent Cancer Pain

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Child with cancer being carried by adult