Division Chief Awarded Duke-Singapore Collaborative Grant

Duke University and the Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Medical School have awarded Duke Anesthesiology’s Ashraf Habib, MBBCh, MSc, chief of the Women’s Anesthesia Division, and his collaborator at KK Hospital in Singapore, Ban Leong Sng, MD, a $200,000 grant for their Duke/Duke-NUS pilot project, titled “Evaluation and risk assessment for persistent postsurgical pain after breast surgery: a collaborative prospective cohort study.”

The overall aim of this study is to identify clinically-relevant and genetic risk factors for persistent postsurgical pain that can be reliably distinguished statistically. Specifically, the focuses include 1) risk factors representing biopsychosocial processes that influence chronic pain, such as pain and psychological vulnerability, and 2) genetic factors relating to mechanistic pathways to persistent pain generation.

According to the project’s abstract, breast cancer is a leading cancer diagnosis among women worldwide, with more than one million new cases each year. Chronic pain following breast cancer surgery has been recognized as a major humanitarian and socioeconomic burden, affecting more than 50 percent of patients after lumpectomy and mastectomy leading to chronic physical disability and psychological distress. This chronic pain may involve the site of lumpectomy/mastectomy, axilla and even proximal medial arm. The cause of persistent postsurgical pain in breast cancer patients may be attributed to various reasons, such as surgical trauma, tumor recurrence, or factors related to radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Despite a number of studies investigating risk factors, almost all of the information has originated from single center studies and often focuses on only a few elements. Additionally, surgical approaches and analgesic regimens have changed in recent years, therefore limiting the interpretation of previous studies. Yet, tools to identify those at high risk and preventive interventions are still lacking.

Dr. Habib and his team of investigators propose to study the risk factors related to persistent postsurgical pain in breast cancer patients, and to develop a prediction model that could serve as a screening tool for patients at high risk of developing persistent pain after breast cancer surgery. Pre-existing pain and severe postoperative pain have been predictors of persistent pain after surgery, but a complete understanding on the development of persistent pain is still lacking. A major challenge facing progress in this field has been the wide variation in patient experience of pain after similar types of surgery and the inability to identify individuals who are more likely to experience severe pain after surgery. A better understanding of the risk factors of postsurgical pain will help identify the subset of patients who are likely to develop severe acute pain and persistent pain. This could help in targeting those high-risk patients with focused perioperative interventions that could reduce their risk of developing severe acute pain and persistent pain.