Cancer Related Pain (Breakthrough Pain)

New Research: Breakthrough Pain from Cancer is Treatable

Cancer pain has long been a major challenge for cancer patients, ranging from chronic, persistent aches to sudden, intense “breakthrough pain.” A new clinical trial published in The Lancet Oncology suggests that breakthrough pain can be managed with a combination of two drugs: fentanyl (Fentora) and oxycodone (OxyContin). The study showed that this two-drug combination provided more pain relief than either drug alone, with better tolerability.

Breakthrough pain is an unpredictable, intense flare of pain that occurs on top of background or persistent pain. The sudden pain is usually brief, but it can be impressive in its intensity. Many cancer patients have found it difficult to adequately control breakthrough pain with drugs that work for their other pain.

The double-drug opioid combination used in the trial was a good mix of short- and long-acting medications. Fentanyl is a rapid-onset (within 10 minutes), short-acting opioid, while oxycodone is a slower-acting opioid that lasts about 12 hours.

The two drugs were given to nearly 100 people with advanced cancer and breakthrough pain. About 86% of the people who received the combination of fentanyl and oxycodone reported meaningful pain relief. They reported less itching, fewer side effects, and better quality of life. These results suggest that this drug combination could be a good option for many people with cancer.

Tips for Managing Breakthrough Pain from Cancer

If you are experiencing breakthrough pain from cancer, here are some tips for managing it:

  • Be sure to take medication according to your doctor’s instructions. Talk to your doctor about possible ways to manage breakthrough pain using medication.
  • Be aware of activities that can trigger pain flares, such as physical activity and stress.
  • Try relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing or guided imagery, to help manage pain when it flares.
  • Talk to your doctor and other healthcare team members about other non-drug therapies, such as acupuncture, massage, heat and cold, and relaxation techniques.
  • Seek out support groups. Support can bring vital emotional and spiritual comfort and can connect you with other people who understand what you’re going through.