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Palliat Med. 2011 Jul;25(5):424-30. doi: 10.1177/0269216310386280.

Starting step III opioids for moderate to severe pain in cancer patients: dose titration: a systematic review.

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Department of Circulation and Medical Imaging, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.


The European Association for Palliative Care recommendation for starting morphine for cancer pain is dose titration with immediate release (IR) oral morphine given every 4 h with additionally doses for breakthrough pain. As part of a EU 6th framework programme to revise the guidelines we review the evidence regarding starting treatment and dose titration of opioids in adult patients with moderate to severe cancer pain. Relevant papers were identified though a systematic search in Medline for papers published until the end of 2009. We identified 15 relevant papers. Thirteen papers were descriptive papers reporting the results from starting treatment with oral morphine (six studies), starting treatment with intravenous morphine (two studies) and starting treatment with transdermal fentanyl (four studies). All treatment strategies resulted in acceptable pain control and were well tolerated. Two randomized controlled trials were identified. One study compared starting opioid treatment with intravenous morphine versus IR oral morphine and one study compared IR oral morphine versus sustained release oral morphine.

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