BACKGROUND: The present systematic review analysed the existing evidence of analgesic efficacy and side effects of opioids without and with adjuvant analgesics delivered by neuraxial route (epidural and subarachnoid) in adult patients with cancer.
METHODS: Search strategy was elaborated with words related to cancer, pain, neuraxial route, analgesic and side effects. The search was performed in PubMed, EMBASE, and Cochrane for the period until February 2014. Studies were analysed according to methods, results, quality of evidence, and strength of recommendation.
RESULTS: The number of abstracts retrieved was 2147, and 84 articles were selected for full reading. The final selection comprised nine articles regarding randomised controlled trials (RCTs) divided in four groups: neuraxial combinations of opioid and adjuvant analgesic compared with neuraxial administration of opioid alone (n = 4); single neuraxial drug in bolus compared with continuous administration (n = 2); single neuraxial drug compared with neuraxial placebo (n = 1); and neuraxial opioid combined with or without adjuvant analgesic compared with other comprehensive medical management than neuraxial analgesics (n = 2). The RCTs presented clinical and methodological diversity that precluded a meta-analysis. They also presented several limitations, which reduced study internal validity. However, they demonstrated better pain control for all interventions analysed. Side effects were described, but there were few significant differences in favour of the tested interventions.
CONCLUSION: Heterogeneous characteristics and several methodological limitations of the studies resulted in evidence of low quality and a weak recommendation for neuraxial administration of opioids with or without adjuvant analgesics in adult patients with cancer.