UNM Nursing Dean Helps Form National Statement on Managing Cancer Symptoms

Too many cancer patients with pain, depression, and fatigue receive inadequate treatment for those symptoms, according to a national panel that included University of New Mexico College of Nursing Dean Sandra L. Ferketich, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N.

Convened at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) State-of-the-Science Conference on Symptom Management in Cancer: Pain, Depression and Fatigue held last month in Washington, D.C., the panel comprised healthcare professionals from across the country. Two dozen speakers, also representing a variety of healthcare disciplines and institutions, addressed the panel.

The panel also concluded that:

· Clinicians should ask patients about pain, depression, and fatigue and initiate treatments.

· Research is needed on the definition, occurrence, assessment, and treatment of pain, depression, and fatigue alone and together.

· Fear of cancer and its consequences must be made more tolerable. All patients with cancer should have optimal symptom control from diagnosis throughout the course of illness, irrespective of personal and cultural characteristics.

· The state of the science in cancer symptom management should be reassessed periodically.

Ferketich said healthcare providers must listen to patients and caregivers and provide adequate treatment based on that information.

"Cancer is an old disease, but we have new treatments and they should be available to every cancer patient whether the person is an active phase or is a cancer survivor," she said.

The panel's work is relevant given the increasing number of people affected by cancer. Current estimates show nearly 9 million persons with a history of cancer in the United States, with an estimated 1.3 million to be diagnosed this year alone and of whom approximately 60 percent will survive at least five years after diagnosis. Addressing the effects that cancer-caused pain, depression and fatigue have on individuals' lives is becoming increasingly critical to efforts to reduce the burden of cancer and its treatment.

To reach its conclusions, the panel studied the methods of assessing symptoms throughout the course of cancer and how reliable they are. The panel also examined treatments for cancer-related pain, depression, and fatigue and their effectiveness, as well how to overcome barriers to effective symptom management in people diagnosed with cancer.

The panel also made numerous recommendations regarding the direction of future research, including the development and evaluation of new treatments for pain, depression, and fatigue.

Ferketich said it was an honor to be selected to serve on the panel.

"The panel is critical in that there is a synthesis of available management strategies for these symptoms," she said. "The panel also serves as a basis for research directions."

NIH State-of-the-Science conferences bring together biomedical investigators, practicing physicians, consumers and representatives of public interest groups to evaluate state-of-the-art scientific information and resolve controversial issues in clinical practice.

Contact: Lynn Melton, 272-3322

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