There is no question that cancer can be a devastating disease in terms of the havoc that malignant tumors can have on the entire body as they multiply and grow.
However, many oncology patients may not be properly prepared for some of the other debilitating conditions that come along with the disease. In most cases, the treatments to arrest the growth of cancerous tumors come with their own unpleasant side effects.
Pain is perhaps the most common of these debilitating conditions. According to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, approximately one-third of oncology patients will experience some sort of pain related either to the cancer itself or the treatments for the condition.1 While patients may certainly benefit from chiropractic care to relieve pain related to cancer, there are some special precautions that must be taken before treating them.
What causes pain related to cancer?
The pain may be related to a tumor that is pressing on a nerve, organ, or bone. One example of this that DCs may often see would be a tumor pressing against the spinal cord. In such cases, it may be a small tumor, but if it is pressing on a nerve, it can cause more pain than larger tumors elsewhere in the body.1
Pain related to cancer may also be a result of treatments to shrink or eliminate tumors. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments often cause nausea and vomiting, which may be painful, particularly if they are prolonged. Furthermore, oncology patients who undergo these treatments may find they have a compromised immune system, which can also cause pain.1
Oncology patients who have undergone surgery to remove tumors may experience postoperative pain. While this type of pain is more short-term than other types, relieving it will allow patients to more quickly heal from surgery.1
Adjusting oncology patients
Although there is no question that oncology patients can benefit from chiropractic adjustments, there are certain special considerations to keep in mind when working on them. First and foremost, DCs must understand when not to perform an adjustment. If the spinal cord is affected by the cancer, adjustments should not be performed within five segments of the affected area. If a cancerous lesion has been found between the vertebrae, an adjustment may also be contraindicated.2
There are times in which an instrument adjustment may be more effective than a manual one. Because an adjusting instrument can transmit more thrust with less force over a smaller area than with a manual adjustment, an instrument-assisted adjustment is more localized and targeted. A good example of this would be if there are any tumors in the thoracic (chest) area of the spinal cord. A manual adjustment would require a great deal of force to be effective, which makes it contraindicated. However, an instrument adjustment may be effective in the same area without any undue force or pressure.2
Additionally, instrument adjusting can be performed in cases where patients may be unable to lay in the standard prone position due to postoperative pain. Because instrument adjusting is more localized than manual adjusting, it can be performed with patients in a seated or standing position, if necessary.2
Providing chiropractic adjustments for patients with cancer requires both individualized care and close coordination with oncologists. With care and patience, DCs can provide pain relief for patients with cancer.
1 MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Cancer pain management.” The University of Texas. http://www.mdanderson.org/patient-and-cancer-information/cancer-information/cancer-topics/dealing-with-cancer-treatment/pain-management/index.html. Accessed January 2015.
2 McDonald C. “Can you adjust a cancer patient?” American Chiropractic Association. https://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=5349. Published November 2013. Accessed January 2015.