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The Team Approach to Pain Relief

Christe Roberts

Christe Roberts (seated center), a patient with a rare form of cancer, says that the NIH Clinical Center's Pain and Palliative Care Service helped bring her pain under control. Roberts is seen here with some of the team members, (left to right) Dr. Berger, Jacques Bolle, RN, Ph.D.; Daniel Handel, M.D.; Eva Cummings, program coordinator; Karen Baker, C.R.N.P.
Photo courtesy of Bill Branson

By Shana Potash

Christe Roberts says there was a time when her cancer caused her so much pain it hurt to hug her children. Now, she says, her life has changed dramatically since coming to the NIH Clinical Center.

Roberts, a 29-year-old mother of two young children, has a rare blood cancer called cutaneous t-cell lymphoma (CTCL) that affects her skin, lymph nodes, and blood. In Roberts' case, it can cause her skin to crack, bleed, and peel off. When she was diagnosed in 2005, Roberts searched the Internet for information about her form of CTCL. She found the NIH Clinical Center and became a patient participating in clinical trials.

Her story is an example of a relatively new team approach to pain treatment, especially for cases of chronic pain. Teams of health care professionals are treating Roberts' cancer and have brought her pain under control. The NIH Clinical Center's Pain and Palliative Care Service worked with Roberts and her physicians to help manage her pain through medication and
alternative therapies.

"It takes a team to take care of a patient," says Ann M. Berger, M.D., chief of the NIH Clinical Center's Pain and Palliative Care Service. The service brings together people from a variety of disciplines to help patients manage their symptoms and relieve their physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.

"We're the quality-of-life team; that's how I introduce ourselves to our patients," says Dr. Berger. "This is the first truly integrative approach to pain management."

The pain medications that Roberts took before coming to NIH made her extremely tired and barely functional. A consultation with the Pain and Palliative Care Service produced a medication plan that eased her pain without interfering with her quality of life, and acupuncture brought relief from severe shoulder pain.

"I'm functional again. That's the best way I can describe it," Roberts says. "Before, I couldn't stay awake long enough to be with my family. Now I can interact with my children and I can hug my kids."

To Find Out More

To get information on taking part in clinical research at the NIH Clinical Center, go to Or call 1-866-999-1112 (TTY 1-866-411-1010).

Since pain, especially chronic, long-term pain, is prevalent across so many different diseases and conditions, the NIH created a Pain Consortium to help study all aspects of pain prevention and treatment. This interdisciplinary Consortium is composed of 18 different Institutes and Centers and helps coordinate planning for key research opportunities in every aspect of pain.

Fall 2007 Issue: Volume 2 Number 4 Page 23