Authors: Alice Weatherston
In a study that will be presented at the upcoming American Psychosomatic Society annual meeting (9–12 March 2016; Denver, CO, USA), a team of researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (TX, USA) have discovered a link between the use of neurofeedback and a decrease in personal experience of chronic pain in patients with chronic chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). The results help to expand knowledge of neuropathic pain and a chemotherapy side effect that affects 71–96% of cancer patients.
“Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy is very common in cancer patients and there is currently only one medication approved to treat it,” explained the study’s lead investigator, Sarah Prinsloo (MD Anderson Cancer Center).
Prinsloo and her team enrolled 71 MD Anderson patients with a range of different cancer types into the study. All of the participants were at least 3 months post-chemotherapy treatment and reported higher than a three on the National Cancer Institute’s neuropathy rating scale.
All patients within the study were required to complete assessments that determined their brain activity in relation to their pain, pain perception and quality of life. These included EEG’s which identified the location of the brain activity which contributed to both the emotional and physical aspects of the neuropathy.
The patients then randomized into groups either receiving neurofeedback or not. Individuals within the neurofeedback group attended 20 sessions of neurofeedback training which involved playing a computer game that rewarded them when they modified their brainwave activity in the affected area. Eventually, patients learnt to adjust their brain activity without an immediate game reward.
The EEG’s and assessments were then repeated on both groups to evaluate changes in pain perception, cancer related symptoms and quality of life. EEG patterns indicated cortical activity characterized by an increase in activation within the parietal and frontal sites in comparison to a normal population.
Neurofeedback was also proven to significantly reduce pain, numbness, intensity, unpleasantness and how much pain interfered with daily activities, with improvement in pain and quality of life being exhibited in 73% of patients that received neurofeedback, as well as changes in EEG signatures that were specific and predictable. Finally, findings indicated that neurofeedback was responsible for inducing neuroplasticity which in turn affected brain activity and CIPN symptoms.
“I’m encouraged to see the significant improvements in patient’s quality of life after treatment. This treatment is customized to the individual, and is relatively inexpensive, non-invasive and non-addictive,” commented Prinsloo.
The team are now commencing a second study which will focus in on neuropathy experienced specifically in breast cancer patients.