Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Pain. 1999 Jan;79(1):1-13.

Problems of long-term spinal opioid treatment in advanced cancer patients.

Author information

Pain Relief and Palliative Care, SAMOT, Palermo, Italy.


Epidural and intrathecal techniques are well established techniques in cancer pain. However, several questions remain unresolved. The several problems of long-term spinal opioid treatment in advance cancer patients were reviewed. Indications for the use of spinal opioids include patients treated by systemic opioids with effective pain relief but with unacceptable side effects, or unsuccessful treatment with sequential strong opioid drug trials despite escalating doses. Therefore, the previous aggressive treatment with systemic opioids would leave as failures patients with difficult pain syndromes unresponsive to opioids. The choice of external or totally implanted delivery systems is based on different clinical considerations. The use of externalized tunneled intrathecal catheters has not been associated with higher rates of complications and is easier to place and use at home in debilitated patients late in the course of their disease. The intrathecal administration has a lower incidence of catheter occlusion, lower malfunctioning rate, lower dose requirement, and more effective pain control. Due to the lower daily doses and volumes, intrathecal treatment proved to be more suitable for treatment at home by a continuous infusion than the epidural treatment. Advantages of infusion techniques are more evident when using local anesthetics, since intermittent administration of bupivacaine often results in motor paralysis and hemodynamic instability. Morphine is the opioid of choice. An epidural dose of 10% of the systemic dose is often used. However, intrathecal administration of opioids and bupivacaine may substantially improve pain relief in patients unresponsive to high epidural doses of these drugs, Bupivacaine-induced adverse effects, including sensory deficits, motor complaints, signs of autonomic dysfunction or neurotoxicity have been reported to not occur with bupivacaine doses less than 30-60 mg/day. Adjuvant drugs may further improve analgesia. Different ranges of technical complication rates have been reported in the literature, most of them being associated with epidural catheters. Subcutaneous tunneling and fixation of the catheter, bacterial filters, minimum changes of tubings, careful exit site care weekly, site protection and monitoring of any sign of infection to prevent infection, and training for family under supervision, are recommended. Areas for additional research include the use of spinal adjuvants, the ideal spinal morphine-bupivacaine ratio. methods to improve spinal opioid responsiveness and long-term catheter management with appropriate home care programs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
    Loading ...
    Support Center