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Palliat Med. 2001 Jul;15(4):309-21.

Transdermal fentanyl for the management of cancer pain: a survey of 1005 patients.

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  • 1Department of Anaesthesiology, University of Cologne, Germany.


Transdermal fentanyl was released in Germany in 1995. From October 1996 to February 1998 transdermal treatment was documented for 1005 patients (506 men and 499 women with a mean age of 60 years, range 20-92 years) with chronic pain in an open survey including 290 physicians from hospitals and general practitioners throughout Germany. Most patients suffered from cancer pain and only 11 patients had chronic pain from non-malignant disease. Physicians were asked to complete a questionnaire for patients treated with transdermal fentanyl on initiation of therapy (day 0), and days 3, 6, 18, 30 thereafter, followed by monthly follow-up intervals. Patients were asked to complete a pain diary. Transdermal therapy was documented from day 0 for 824 patients, while 181 patients had been treated with transdermal fentanyl before admission in the survey. Most of the other 824 patients had been treated with other step 3 opioids (55% of the patients) or step 2 opioids (23%) before conversion to transdermal fentanyl, whereas 8% had been treated only with non-opioids and 14% had received analgesics only as required or not at all before initiation of transdermal therapy. The most important reasons for switching to transdermal opioid therapy were insufficient pain relief with the previous medication followed by a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms impeding oral analgesic therapy. Initial fentanyl doses ranged from 0.6 to 9.6 mg/day (25 to 400 microg/h) with a median of 1.2 mg/day (50 microg/h). Median doses slowly increased throughout the observation period to 2.4 mg/day (100 microg/h) after 4 months of treatment. Most patients continued transdermal therapy until the time of death (47% of patients). Other reasons for discontinuation were inadequate pain relief (10%), pain relief with other analgesic regimens (10%), other symptoms than pain (5%), rejection of transdermal therapy by the patient (6%) or miscellaneous (16%). Adverse events were documented as the reason for discontinuation of transdermal therapy in 49 patients (5%). Dyspnoea was documented for seven patients as the reason for discontinuation. One of these patients, as well as another patient with an episode of apnoea, had to be treated with artificial respiration for several hours, but both patients recovered without sequelae. Transdermal therapy with fentanyl was safe and efficient in this national survey. Transdermal fentanyl can be recommended for treatment of moderate to severe cancer pain and probably may even be used as a first-line drug on step 3 of the World Health Organization recommendations in selected patient groups.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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