VUB and UHasselt start major research into treatment of mental and physical pain after breast cancer

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October is breast cancer awareness month

New treatment tackles sense of injustice

The most common complaints after breast cancer are fatigue and pain, which have a major impact on the quality of life of cancer survivors. Persistent complaints after treatment also create a sense of injustice. As mental and physical complaints are often related, negative feelings can even reinforce pain, causing a vicious circle.

Researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and UHasselt have now started a major study into a new pain treatment method for breast cancer survivors, funded by the cancer charity Kom op tegen Kanker. The method treats both mental and physical pain. With the results, they want to set up tailor-made treatment programmes to improve people’s quality of life after cancer.

Sense of injustice

A cancer-free diagnosis is often not the end of the story for the patient. Many people whose cancer is successfully treated still struggle afterwards with physical and mental symptoms that affect their quality of life. Often, feelings of powerlessness and injustice come into play: why were they affected, why did they have to undergo the harsh treatment, why do they have to keep living with pain? However, these feelings of injustice also stimulate physical symptoms and should not be ignored in pain treatment. Researcher Eva

Roose: "We are starting a major study into a new treatment that very specifically addresses this feeling of injustice. This has never been done like this before. We want to investigate whether this treatment focused on feelings of injustice can reduce physical and mental symptoms after cancer treatment."

Earlier research by Prof Jo Nijs and Prof Laurence Leysen of VUB’s Pain in Motion research group showed that feelings of injustice affect both pain perception and quality of life among breast cancer survivors. A feeling of injustice has a negative impact on physical, mental and social well-being. Pain and fatigue after cancer treatment are therefore also more prominent when patients experience a greater sense of injustice. This feeling can arise from the cancer diagnosis, from the necessary treatments, or after the disease has been overcome.

Roose: "So the feeling of injustice should not be ignored in pain treatment. The treatment we will initiate within this study focuses on explaining the possible causes of the persistent complaints and the impact of the feeling of injustice on these complaints. We help the patient shift the focus, from that feeling of injustice to a more positive mindset. The next step is then a tailored programme that focuses on the activities the patient enjoys doing. It is our goal and hope that with this treatment, we can help and guide cancer survivors to a happier and higher-quality life."