Meditation Shows Potential for Relieving Pediatric Cancer Pain

CURE, Fall 2014, Volume 13, Issue 3

Recent studies that suggest meditation can reduce the perception of pain in adults have prompted researchers to explore whether it could provide pain relief for children with neuroblastoma.

Recent studies that suggest meditation can reduce the perception of pain in adults have prompted researchers to explore whether it could provide pain relief for children with neuroblastoma—the most common solid tumor in pediatric patients outside of the brain. One effective treatment for high-risk neuroblastoma is antibody therapy, but acute pain is a prevalent side effect during the three hours required to administer the drugs. To reduce discomfort during more than 100 infusions throughout a two-year period, patients typically receive opioid analgesics. While these drugs provide pain relief, they have potentially risky side effects, such as a depressed respiratory rate and drug dependence.

Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York offered pediatric patients the opportunity to recite a verbal mantra. During individual sessions with each child, the meditation teacher played peaceful music while the patient repeated the mantra and practiced gentle breathing patterns to release tension. Of the 34 participants, 71 percent were able to complete a minimum of 11 minutes of chanted meditation. The researchers were surprised that the preschool-aged children were as successful at meditation as their middle school-aged counterparts.

After analyzing the pain medication data, the researchers discovered that when children practiced meditation before receiving an antibody infusion, they required an average of 14 percent less pain medication. The researchers hypothesized that this effect was due in part to a relaxation response activated by meditating, but they are also investigating other possible mechanisms.

“If you look at overall cancer therapy, one of the greatest unmet needs is pain relief,” says Mahiuddin Ahmed, the lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology in March. “Mantra is so portable, costs next to nothing and can be applied in so many different settings. The findings from our retrospective analysis confirm that it is worthwhile to conduct a large, formal study to validate what we discovered.”