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J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2009 May 7;28:61. doi: 10.1186/1756-9966-28-61.

Opioids switching with transdermal systems in chronic cancer pain.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiological, Surgical and Emergency Sciences, Second University of Naples, Naples, Italy.



Due to tolerance development and adverse side effects, chronic pain patients frequently need to be switched to alternative opioid therapy


To assess the efficacy and tolerability of an alternative transdermally applied (TDS) opioid in patients with chronic cancer pain receiving insufficient analgesia using their present treatment.


A total of 32 patients received alternative opioid therapy, 16 were switched from buprenorphine to fentanyl and 16 were switched from fentanyl to buprenorphine. The dosage used was 50% of that indicated in equipotency conversion tables. Pain relief was assessed at weekly intervals for the next 3 weeks


Pain relief as assessed by VAS, PPI, and PRI significantly improved (p < 0.0001) in all patients at all 3 follow up visits. After 3 weeks of treatment, the reduction in the mean VAS, PPI, and PRI scores in the fentanyl and buprenorphine groups was 68, 77, 74, and 69, 79, and 62%, respectively. Over the same time period the use of oral morphine as rescue medication was reduced from 27.5 +/- 20.5 (mean +/- SD) to 3.75 +/- 8.06, and 33.8 +/- 18.9 to 3.75 +/- 10.9 mg/day in the fentanyl and buprenorphine groups, respectively. There was no significant difference in either pain relief or rescue medication use between the two patient groups The number of patient with adverse events fell during the study. After the third week of the treatment the number of patients with constipation was reduced from 11 to 5, and 10 to 4 patients in the fentanyl and buprenorphine groups, respectively. There was a similar reduction in the incidence of nausea and vomiting. No sedation was seen in any patient after one week of treatment.


Opioid switching at 50% of the calculated equianalgesic dose produced a significant reduction in pain levels and rescue medication. The incidence of side effects decreased and no new side effects were noted. Further studies are required to provide individualized treatment for patients according to their different types of cancer.

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