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Society Sunday, May 7, 2006

Pharmacist warns muscle pain may be a precursor to cancer

2006-05-06 / Taiwan News, Staff Reporter / By Jenny W. Hsu

A pharmacist warned yesterday that chronic muscle pain might be a precursor to cancer and cautioned that long-term dependency on pain relievers could mask the underlying cause of the pain.

Chiang Shao-chin, the division head of the pharmacy at Koo Foundation Sun Yat-sen Cancer Center, said many people are under the misconception that incorrect posture or over-exertion are the only two causes of muscle soreness or pain.

"However, chronic pain could be an indication of something more serious, such as cancer," he disclosed.

Chiang cited the example of a fifty-year old person who suffered from lower back pain and who took painkillers for five months before seeking a professional opinion.

By the time he sought medical attention, said Chiang, it was discovered that the patient was already in the fourth stage of lung cancer. Furthermore, the cancer cells had already migrated down to his lower back region.

"We are urging people not to ignore their pain, but pay attention to it. It is the body's way of signaling something is wrong," said the pharmacist, adding that tumor cells are known to attack the spinal cord area or the bones, thus causing severe pain in the lower back.

Chiang said pain relievers, whether taken orally or used as a spray, can offer relief for acute pain and sport-related injuries. However, painkillers can also trigger other health concerns such as abdominal ulcers or kidney failure if taken over long periods of time.

"Two weeks is the maximum of time for taking any kind of pain relievers," he noted.

He advised that it is crucial for patients to seek professional attention if severe pain persists for longer than 14 days or if the pain moves to other parts of the body.

In addition to his caution on drug dependency, Chiang also alerted people to the use of glucosamine, a popular drug used for arthritis and joint pain, but which people use for the relief of muscle pain.

"Different drugs are designed for different functions," he said while noting that medical research has conflicting views on the effectiveness of glucosamine in treating sore or painful muscles.

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