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Tumori. 2002 May-Jun;88(3):239-42.

Amitriptyline in neuropathic cancer pain in patients on morphine therapy: a randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study.

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Anesthesia and Intensive Care Unit, Pain Relief and Palliative Care Unit, La Maddalena Cancer Center, Home Palliative Care Program, Società Assistenza Malato Oncologico Terminale, Palermo, Italy.



Amitriptyline is the most common analgesic adjuvant used in cancer patients with neuropathic pain, even though no specific studies have demonstrated a benefit. A randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study was designed to evidence the effects of amitriptyline in patients with neuropathic cancer pain.


Sixteen advanced cancer patients with neuropathic pain on systemic morphine therapy, no longer receiving oncologic treatment, presenting moderate pain (about 4 or more, but less than 7, on a numerical scale of 0-10) in the last week, and given a stable morphine dose in the last 2 days were admitted to the study. During the first week of study, patients were administered 25 mg of amitriptyline or equivalent drops of placebo at night for 3 days and 50 mg for the following 4 days. Doses for patients aged more than 65 years were 15 mg (first 3 days) and 30 mg (3 days after). After a week, a crossover took place for the second week, with the other treatment at an inverse sequence. Opioid consumption, pain intensity, symptoms and adverse effects, mood, sleep, patient's preference, quality of life before starting the study, the first week after and the second week after were recorded.


No significant benefits in analgesia were found in the global pain intensity of the previous week of treatment, the least pain intensity or the pain evaluated just after a week of treatment, at the moment of the visit, when amitriptyline was compared with placebo. A significant difference was evidenced for the worst pain (P < 0.035). No differences in opioid doses during the period of study were found. Drowsiness, confusion and dry mouth were significantly more intense with amitriptyline than with placebo (P < 0.036, 0.003, and 0.034, respectively). There were no substantial differences between the two treatments in Spitzer's quality of life score and for each item. No differences in patients' preference for the two treatment periods were found. The analgesic effects of amitriptyline were slight and associated with adverse effects.


In light of the results obtained in the study, the extensive use of the drug for cancer pain should be questioned.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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