Electrical treatment of severe head and neck cancer pain

Bauer, William. Electrical treatment of severe head and neck cancer pain. Archives of Otolaryngology. 1983; 109(6):382-383. Download Article

Funding Source, Location of Study or Author’s Affiliation
Division of Otolaryngology, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.


Key Variables

Explore the application of Microcurrent Electrical Therapy (MET) using Alpha-Stim for pain relief in patients with cancer.

Case study of patients with intractable cancer, and their experience of pain relief from using MET.

Primary Outcome Measures

Secondary Outcome Measures
None reported.

Key Inclusion Criteria
Diagnosis of cancer.

Key Exclusion Criteria
None reported.

Protocol Summary
Exploratory study of three case studies of patients with cancer and their level of pain.

Device Application Protocol
Device was applied as per manufacturer guidelines.


Total of three patients with intractable cancer.

Case Results

Case 1, a 58-year-old man had squamous cell carcinoma of the laryngeopharynx staged at T4N2M0, full course radiation therapy and radical neck dissection. After failing to achieve pain relief with 7 mg of morphine sulfate every four hours along with various sedatives, he achieved complete relief without medication at all for one week following 3-daily, 10-minute Alpha-Stim treatments of 500 A at 0.5 Hz, and then was maintained pain free with Alpha-Stim treatments every three days for one minute.

Case 2, a 54-year-old man who also had a neck dissection and radiation for a T3N0M0 lesion of the larynx, and a primary squamous cell tumor of the left lung, required a combination of codeine, zomepirac sodium (Zomax), and amitriptyline hydrochloride (Elavil), which provided little relief. After 6 minutes of Alpha-Stim treatment he had complete relief of pain for 50 hours, after which further treatment caused the pain to disappear again.

Case 3, a 59-year-old man who had a T4N1M0 squamous cell carcinoma of the base of the tongue and supraglottis. Codeine and meperidine failed to completely control his severe pain radiating to both ears. The pain was completely relieved for 8 hours after 12 minutes of Alpha-Stim treatment. The second treatment lasted 24 hours.

Data Analysis


The graph shows that the three patients in the first study, who were being treated specifically for pain, lost all pain sensation following 10, 6 and 12 minutes respectively with the probes. The fourth patient (from Boswell, 1989) was not being treated specifically for pain, but found the pain in total remission after an average of 15 minutes of probe stimulation to the radiated area.

This is an early report of Alpha-Stim results on severe intractable cancer pain that failed to achieve relief with “heavy medication.” The author states that the three cases anecdotally presented are representative of similar cases treated by Alpha-Stim. Without exception, in every case there was a positive effect in decreasing pain. Objectively, these patients could be followed up by the amount of pain medication they required.

Study Limitations
Small sample size.

Study Quality: FAIR