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Eur J Cancer. 1997 Jul;33 Suppl 6:S8-14.

New approaches to pain control in patients with cancer.

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University of Sheffield, Royal Hallamshire Hospital, UK.


Pain affects most patients with malignant disease, and the prevalence of severe pain increases in the advanced stages of the condition. One in 5 patients with cancer has uncontrolled pain, even after 10 years of the use of the World Health Organization programme for cancer pain control and its 'three-step ladder' for the rational use of analgesics including morphine. Morphine has long been the 'gold standard' for the treatment of severe cancer pain. However, its side-effects, particularly sedation, cognitive impairment and myoclonus at high doses, have provoked the use of 'opioid rotation' to alternatives such as methadone and hydromorphone. The new 72-h transdermal patch for fentanyl also offers advantages of reduced side-effects and increased convenience over oral morphine. Intravenous strontium-89 and bisphosphonate therapy are effective for both short- and long-term control of metastatic bone pain. The spinal N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor is important in modulating the plasticity of the central nervous system and in aggravating chronic pain through the phenomenon of 'wind-up'. The NMDA antagonist ketamine, an anaesthetic, can be used at low doses for the management of refractory and neuropathic pains. Among adjuvant drugs, ketorolac has emerged as a potent non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Palliative care is gaining acceptance as a new discipline in healthcare. Its strategic role is being reviewed as an adjunct to cancer therapy at all stages and its use is no longer confined to the terminal phase of disease after curative treatment has failed. Pain control and other aspects of symptom control are, therefore, viewed as an integral part of cancer management.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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