The WHO guidelines on cancer pain management recommend a sequential three-step analgesic ladder. However, conclusive data are lacking as to whether moderate pain should be treated with either step II weak opioids or low-dose step III strong opioids.
PATIENTS AND METHODS
In a multicenter, 28-day, open-label randomized controlled study, adults with moderate cancer pain were assigned to receive either a weak opioid or low-dose morphine. The primary outcome was the number of responder patients, defined as patients with a 20% reduction in pain intensity on the numerical rating scale.
A total of 240 patients with cancer (118 in the low-dose morphine and 122 in the weak-opioid group) were included in the study. The primary outcome occurred in 88.2% of the low-dose morphine and in 57.7% of the weak-opioid group (odds risk, 6.18; 95% CI, 3.12 to 12.24; P < .001). The percentage of responder patients was higher in the low-dose morphine group, as early as at 1 week. Clinically meaningful (≥ 30%) and highly meaningful (≥ 50%) pain reduction from baseline was significantly higher in the low-dose morphine group (P < .001). A change in the assigned treatment occurred more frequently in the weak-opioid group, because of inadequate analgesia. The general condition of patients, which was based on the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System overall symptom score, was better in the morphine group. Adverse effects were similar in both groups.
In patients with cancer and moderate pain, low-dose morphine reduced pain intensity significantly compared with weak opioids, with a similarly good tolerability and an earlier effect.