Beatson breakthrough to KO “asbestos” cancer pain

The world class Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre has become the first in Scotland to offer a highly specialised surgical procedure to patients experiencing overwhelming pain.

Cordotomy is a procedure which disables very fine pain-conducting fibres in the spinal to remove the sensation of severe pain.

A specialised needle is inserted in the neck and uses radio frequency to “burn” targeted 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.

Asbestos related

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. In Scotland, 150 people are diagnosed with it each year with 100 of these in the West of Scotland.

Dr Margaret Owen, an NHSGGC consultant in anaesthesia and pain medicine, has been training for the last year in Portsmouth in order to offer cordotomies in Scotland.

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 due to their cancer pain medications.

Six years of work realised

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 the interventional cancer pain service (ICPS), has led the work to develop the cordotomy

She said: “We have operated the ICPS at the Beatson for the last 10 years and have worked for the last six years to be able to offer a cordotomy service to patients experiencing severe pain due to cancer.

“Until now patients assessed in Glasgow as 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.

“We are now able to offer this procedure to many more patients with the aim of significantly improving their quality of life.”

Cordotomy 1

Benefiting patients

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.”

Mesothelioma UK has provided funding towards the purchase of equipment, reconfiguring the theatre table and upgrading the image intensifier machine. The Beatson Cancer Charity has provided funding towards maintaining a database and a radiofrequency machine.

Go to our Beatson Cancer Charity pages to find out more.