Summer Student Research Project
Researchers at the BC Cancer Agency’s Centre for the Southern Interior are providing clinical research experience for Southern Medical Program (SMP) students during the summer break.
Second year medical student Matt Mittelstadt has teamed up with Dr. Gillian Fyles, Medical Leader of the Pain and Symptom Management/Palliative Care Program (PSMPC) at the BC Cancer Agency Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins Centre for the Southern Interior in Kelowna and Research Leader, Oncology Palliative Care for the BC Cancer Agency for a two-month research project. Together, they are examining the efficacy and safety of methadone treatment in managing pain for ambulatory cancer patients.
“Methadone is most commonly known in the public sphere as a medication used in harm reduction to treat patients with drug addiction,” says Mittelstadt. “However, as an opioid, it has also shown to be an effective tool in managing cancer pain.”
The prescribing of methadone is closely monitored by medical colleges across Canada. BC physicians must apply to the BC Methadone Program, managed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC, to obtain a special license to have the ability to prescribe methadone to their patients.
In managing pain for cancer patients, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Patients can experience pain from both their cancer as well as the medical interventions utilized in efforts to eradicate the disease. Drugs such as morphine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, codeine, oxycodone, and other non-opioids are commonly used, each with their own side effects. Considerable variability with each patient in regard to the type of cancer and treatments utilized will dictate the types of medication administered to minimize cancer pain while lessening the associated side effects including nausea, dizziness, and constipation among others.
Mittelstadt is currently compiling data, dating back to 1999, on over 700 cancer patients prescribed methadone by the BC Cancer Agency. His research focuses on each patient’s treatment plan leading up to and during the use of methadone, the cancer treatments received such as chemotherapy, and the associated side effects. The research will also address if any drug combinations were utilized in conjunction with methadone.
“Matt’s research is helping us collect data specifically on the responses to methadone in reducing the pain and the side effects experienced,” says Dr. Fyles. “This information will assist us in caring for our patients better.”
The research project is providing Mittelstadt with great insight into the types of medications applied in treating cancer pain and the rationale for their uses. He is also provided time to work with Dr. Fyles and her colleagues in the Pain and Symptom Management Palliative Care Clinic gaining a glimpse into possible future career paths.
“Before entering third year later this summer, I wanted to get my feet wet in research and explore all of the different avenues that I can learn and grow,” adds Mittelstadt. “This research project has been incredibly valuable and a wonderful experience.”
Mittelstadt’s research project at the BC Cancer Agency’s Centre for the Southern Interior is made available in part by a donation from The Colin & Lois Pritchard Foundation. A total of nine SMP students are involved in summer research projects ranging from local clinical-based research within the Okanagan to global health research abroad. Funding is also provided by the UBC Faculty of Medicine, SMP, and Interior Health.