The brain is the stage upon which peripheral information is assembled and translated into perceptions, including consciousness of the symptoms produced by disease and treatment. The theme of this book is to bring together research findings from various scientific disciplines to help us understand why patients with cancer develop symptoms. Recent breakthroughs in functional imaging techniques – such as electroencephalography (EEG), positron emission tomography (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) – can help us investigate the localization of symptom expression in the brain. The abundance of literature on the functional imaging of pain, together with the growing number of studies of other cancer-related symptoms such as dyspnea (shortness of breath), nausea, loss of appetite, disturbed sleep, and fatigue, are beginning to help us understand how brain changes occur at the electrophysiological, hemodynamic, and metabolic levels. These functional imaging technologies have revolutionized basic and translational research and are directly applicable to clinical care.
What is unique about imaging cancer-related symptoms is that cancer is a dynamic process. First, tumor growth does not develop all at once but rather progresses over time, enabling us to examine symptoms as they develop. Second, the toxic nature of many cancer treatments results in the rapid development of symptoms in patients who are often symptom-free before the start of treatment. Finally, the dosage of symptom management drugs (such as analgesics, steroids, and antiemetics) used to control disease-related and treatment-related symptoms is continuously modified as the disease progresses.