Witnessing both her mother and father struggle with cancer-related pain led Christine Miaskowski, R.N., Ph.D., F.A.A.N., to devote 40 years to researching pain control and symptom management, a contribution that has revolutionized our understanding of inter-individual variability in patients’ symptom experiences.
Her dad died in intractable pain after undergoing radiation and surgical interventions for recurrent laryngeal cancer in 1974. Her mom, a uterine cancer survivor, had multiple gastrointestinal symptoms due to cancer treatments that severely limited her physical, psychological, and social well-being. At a time when virtually nothing was known about post-surgical neuropathic pain, a plea from a 60-year-old, suicidal breast cancer patient with persistent post-surgical pain 5 years after treatment focused her.
Dr. Miaskowski has investigated both the causes of and solutions for the debilitating pain and side effects of cancer treatment, and the identification of the phenotypic and genotypic characteristics that place patients at highest risk for developing the most harmful symptoms. She described the extremely high symptom burden in oncology patients, and developed and tested interventions to decrease symptom severity and improve both patients’ and their family caregivers’ quality of life.
A major focus of her research is the integration of symptom science and genomics to uncover the mechanisms that underlie the most common symptoms (pain, fatigue, cognitive impairment, nausea, peripheral neuropathy, and sleep disturbance), and to identify new therapeutic targets for evidenced-based pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions, including exercise.
Dr. Miaskowski was the first nurse to be named President of the American Pain Society. In 2020, she received the Friends of the National Institute for Nursing Research Ada Sue Hinshaw Award, which recognizes substantive and sustained programs of science that place the recipient as a prominent senior scientist.
To learn more about Dr. Miaskowski, see the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.