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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 01:00 GMT
New relief for pancreatic cancer
A nerve block was injected into patients with pancreatic cancer
A nerve block could provide twice the pain relief of morphine in people with pancreatic cancer, a report shows.

A team at the Mayo Clinic in the US studied 100 people with advanced cases.

The nerve block reduced their pain by more than half and lasted longer than other pain killers.

Pancreatic cancer is an extremely excruciating condition.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Horrible pain

The pain caused by pancreatic cancer ranks among the most horrible pains anyone can experience or imagine
Dr Gilbert Wong, Mayo Clinic
The team used a technique called neurolytic celiac plexus block.

This is an injection consisting of a local anaesthetic, steroids and alcohol, which paralyses the nerves surrounding the pancreas, reducing the sensation of pain.

To make sure the right area is injected, the patient has to be given the injection under a CT scan.

Around 85% of people with pancreatic cancer will experience severe discomfort in their abdomen and back.

Dr Gilbert Wong and colleagues found patients treated with the nerve block reported a pain reduction of more than 50%, while those on morphine and other medications reported a reduction of around 27%.

They also found the nerve block could provide pain relief for several months.

Dr Wong suggests the findings could help those with terminal cases to live out the rest of their life more comfortably.

"The pain caused by pancreatic cancer ranks among the most horrible pains anyone can experience or imagine," he said.

Complex procedure

Pancreatic cancer is usually an aggressive type of tumour, usually not detected until it is in a late stage, and the average survival time is about six months.

Around 7,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the condition each year.

It is most common in people aged 60 to 80.

Professor John Neoptolemos, at Cancer Research UK, said although the trial showed important progress in treating a painful condition, nerve blocks were a complicated procedure.

"The disadvantage is that the technique used is complex, invasive and must be conducted under CT control," he told BBC News Online

"Its success rate at targeting the right area of the body is also well under 100 per cent."

He said his research team in Liverpool is trialling another technique cutting nerves using keyhole surgery, which is "a simpler procedure that could yield pain relieving success in a higher proportion of patients."

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