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Can J Anaesth. 2016 Feb;63(2):184-92.

Can anesthetic-analgesic technique during primary cancer surgery affect recurrence or metastasis?



Mortality among cancer patients is more commonly due to the effects of metastasis and recurrence as opposed to the primary tumour. Various perioperative factors have been implicated in tumour growth, including anesthetic agents and analgesia techniques. In this narrative review, we integrate this information to present a summary of the best available evidence to guide the conduct of anesthesia for primary cancer surgery.


We conducted a search of the PubMed database up to May 31, 2015 to identify relevant literature using the search terms "anesthesia and metastases", "anesthetic drugs and cancer", "volatile anesthetic agents and cancer", and "anesthetic technique and cancer".


There is conflicting evidence regarding volatile agents; however, the majority of studies are in vitro, suggesting that these agents are associated with enhanced expression of tumourigenic markers as well as both proliferation and migration of cancer cells. Nitrous oxide has not been shown to have any effect on cancer recurrence. Local anesthetic agents may reduce the incidence of cancer recurrence through systemic anti-inflammatory action in addition to direct effects on the proliferation and migration of cancer cells. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs affect cancer cells via inhibition of cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2), which leads to reduced resistance of the cancer cell to apoptosis and reduced production of prostaglandins by cancer cells. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs also suppress the cancer cell growth cycle through effects independent of COX-2 inhibition. Opioids have been shown to inhibit the function of natural killer cells and to stimulate cancer cell proliferation through effects on angiogenesis and tumour cell signalling pathways. Supplemental oxygen at the time of surgery has a proangiogenic effect on micrometastases, while the use of perioperative dexamethasone does not affect overall rates of cancer survival.


Current laboratory research suggests that perioperative interventions may impact recurrence or metastasis through effects on cancer cell signalling, the immune response, or modulation of the neuroendocrine stress response. Further evidence is awaited from prospective randomized-controlled trials. Meanwhile, with limited data upon which to make strong recommendations, anesthesiologists should seek optimal anesthesia and analgesia for their patients based on individual risk-benefit analysis and best available evidence on outcomes other than cancer recurrence.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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