Practice review: Evidence-based and effective management of pain in patients with advanced cancer

Palliative Medicine 2020, Vol 34(4) 444–453 (Editor's Choice)

Each month, one article from Palliative Medicine, the EAPC's official research journal, is selected as 'Editor's choice' and the author invited to contribute a short post to the EAPC blog explaining the background to the full article in the journal. This month's 'Editor's choice' is described below with access to the free PDF version.  (You can also read the blog post version here)


Pain of a moderate or severe intensity affects over half of patients with advanced cancer and remains undertreated in at least one-third of these patients.


The aim of this study was to provide a pragmatic overview of the evidence supporting the use of interventions in pain management in advanced cancer and to identify where encouraging preliminary results are demonstrated but further research is required.


A scoping review approach was used to examine the evidence supporting the use of guideline-recommended interventions in pain management practice.


National or international guidelines were selected if they described pain management in adult cancer patients and were written within the last 5 years in English. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (January 2014 to January 2019) was searched for 'cancer' AND 'pain' in the title, abstract or keywords. A MEDLINE search was also made.


A strong opioid remains the drug of choice for treating moderate or severe pain. Bisphosphonates and radiotherapy are also effective for cancer-related bone pain. Optimal management requires a tailored approach, support for self-management and review of treatment outcomes. There is likely a role for non-pharmacological approaches. Paracetamol should not be used in patients taking a strong opioid to treat pain. Cannabis-based medicines are not recommended. Weak opioids, ketamine and lidocaine are indicated in specific situations only.


Interventions commonly recommended by guidelines are not always supported by a robust evidence base. Research is required to evaluate the efficacy of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants, corticosteroids, some invasive anaesthetic techniques, complementary therapies and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.


Pain; analgesia; evidence-based practice; neoplasms; review; terminal care

View the full article here

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