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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2008 Apr;35(4):420-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2007.05.011. Epub 2008 Feb 4.

Tetrodotoxin for moderate to severe cancer pain: a randomized, double blind, parallel design multicenter study.

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Division of Palliative Medicine, Department of Oncology, University of Calgary and Alberta Cancer Board, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. <>


Cancer pain is a serious public health issue and more effective treatments are needed. This study evaluates the analgesic activity of tetrodotoxin, a highly selective sodium channel blocker. This randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel design study of subcutaneous tetrodotoxin, in patients with moderate or severe unrelieved cancer pain persisting despite best available treatment, involved 22 centers across Canada. The design called for tetrodotoxin administered subcutaneously over Days 1-4 with a period of observation to Day 15 or longer. All patients could enroll into an open-label extension efficacy and safety trial. The primary endpoint was the proportion of analgesic responders in each treatment arm. Eighty-two patients were randomized, and results on 77 were available for analysis. There was a nonstatistically significant trend toward more responders in the active treatment arm based on the primary endpoint (pain intensity difference). However, analysis of secondary endpoints, and an exploratory post hoc analysis, suggested there may be a robust analgesic effect if a composite endpoint is used, including either fall in pain level, or fall in opioid dose, plus improvement in quality of life. Most patients described transient perioral tingling or other mild sensory phenomena within about an hour of each treatment. Nausea and other toxicities were generally mild, but one patient experienced a serious, adverse event, truncal and gait ataxia. This trial suggests tetrodotoxin may potentially relieve moderate to severe, treatment-resistant cancer pain in a large proportion of patients, and often for prolonged periods following treatment, but further study is warranted using a composite primary endpoint.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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