Schmidt-Hansen M, Bennett MI, Arnold S, et al. Oxycodone for cancer-related pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022 Jun 9;6:CD003870. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003870.pub7. (Systematic review)

BACKGROUND: Many people with cancer experience moderate to severe pain that requires treatment with strong opioids, such as oxycodone and morphine. Strong opioids are, however, not effective for pain in all people, neither are they well tolerated by all people. The aim of this review was to assess whether oxycodone is associated with better pain relief and tolerability than other analgesic options for adults with cancer pain. This is an updated Cochrane review previously published in 2017.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effectiveness and tolerability of oxycodone by any route of administration for pain in adults with cancer.

SEARCH METHODS: For this update, we searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in the Cochrane Library, MEDLINE and MEDLINE In-Process (Ovid), Embase (Ovid), Science Citation Index, Conference Proceedings Citation Index - Science (ISI Web of Science), BIOSIS (ISI), and PsycINFO (Ovid) to November 2021. We also searched four trial registries, checked the bibliographic references of relevant studies, and contacted the authors of the included studies. We applied no language, date, or publication status restrictions.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (parallel-group or cross-over) comparing oxycodone (any formulation or route of administration) with placebo or an active drug (including oxycodone) for cancer background pain in adults by examining pain intensity/relief, adverse events, quality of life, and participant preference.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently sifted the search, extracted data and assessed the included studies using standard Cochrane methodology. We meta-analysed pain intensity data using the generic inverse variance method, and pain relief and adverse events using the Mantel-Haenszel method, or summarised these data narratively along with the quality of life and participant preference data. We assessed the overall certainty of the evidence using GRADE.

MAIN RESULTS: For this update, we identified 19 new studies (1836 participants) for inclusion. In total, we included 42 studies which enrolled/randomised 4485 participants, with 3945 of these analysed for efficacy and 4176 for safety. The studies examined a number of different drug comparisons. Controlled-release (CR; typically taken every 12 hours) oxycodone versus immediate-release (IR; taken every 4-6 hours) oxycodone Pooled analysis of three of the four studies comparing CR oxycodone to IR oxycodone suggest that there is little to no difference between CR and IR oxycodone in pain intensity (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.12, 95% confidence interval (CI) -0.1 to 0.34; n = 319; very low-certainty evidence). The evidence is very uncertain about the effect on adverse events, including constipation (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.45 to 1.13), drowsiness/somnolence (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.69 to 1.54), nausea (RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.56 to 1.28), and vomiting (RR 0.66, 95% CI 0.38 to 1.15) (very low-certainty evidence). There were no data available for quality of life or participant preference, however, three studies suggested that treatment acceptability may be similar between groups (low-certainty evidence). CR oxycodone versus CR morphine The majority of the 24 studies comparing CR oxycodone to CR morphine reported either pain intensity (continuous variable), pain relief (dichotomous variable), or both. Pooled analysis indicated that pain intensity may be lower (better) after treatment with CR morphine than CR oxycodone (SMD 0.14, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.27; n = 882 in 7 studies; low-certainty evidence). This SMD is equivalent to a difference of 0.27 points on the Brief Pain Inventory scale (0-10 numerical rating scale), which is not clinically significant. Pooled analyses also suggested that there may be little to no difference in the proportion of participants achieving complete or significant pain relief (RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.10; n = 1249 in 13 studies; low-certainty evidence). The RR for constipation (RR 0.75, 95% CI 0.66 to 0.86) may be lower after treatment with CR oxycodone than after CR morphine. Pooled analyses showed that, for most of the adverse events, the CIs were wide, including no effect as well as potential benefit and harm: drowsiness/somnolence (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.05), nausea (RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.12), and vomiting (RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.63 to 1.04) (low or very low-certainty evidence). No data were available for quality of life. The evidence is very uncertain about the treatment effects on treatment acceptability and participant preference. Other comparisons The remaining studies either compared oxycodone in various formulations or compared oxycodone to different alternative opioids. None found any clear superiority or inferiority of oxycodone for cancer pain, neither as an analgesic agent nor in terms of adverse event rates and treatment acceptability. The certainty of this evidence base was limited by the high or unclear risk of bias of the studies and by imprecision due to low or very low event rates or participant numbers for many outcomes.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The conclusions have not changed since the previous version of this review (in 2017). We found low-certainty evidence that there may be little to no difference in pain intensity, pain relief and adverse events between oxycodone and other strong opioids including morphine, commonly considered the gold standard strong opioid. Although we identified a benefit for pain relief in favour of CR morphine over CR oxycodone, this was not clinically significant and did not persist following sensitivity analysis and so we do not consider this important. However, we found that constipation and hallucinations occurred less often with CR oxycodone than with CR morphine; but the certainty of this evidence was either very low or the finding did not persist following sensitivity analysis, so these findings should be treated with utmost caution. Our conclusions are consistent with other reviews and suggest that, while the reliability of the evidence base is low, given the absence of important differences within this analysis, it seems unlikely that larger head-to-head studies of oxycodone versus morphine are justified, although well-designed trials comparing oxycodone to other strong analgesics may well be useful. For clinical purposes, oxycodone or morphine can be used as first-line oral opioids for relief of cancer pain in adults.

Discipline Area Score
Physician 5 / 7
Comments from MORE raters

Physician rater

The conclusion is unchanged from previous analyses - oxycodone and morphine are both suitable oral analgesics for first-line pain management in patients with cancer. Athough the quality of evidence is considered low, the authors consider any important differences between morphine and oxycodone to be so little that further comparative studies of these two analgesics are unlikely to be helpful.

Physician rater

A nice review that did not find any changes from the previous review.

Physician rater

This is simply an update of a prior review so not very novel (nothing much new noted). While malignant hematologists treat cancer pain, we select our opioids mostly for issues of renal clearance, etc. Few people would have interest in learning that oxycodone isn't any better than morphine.

Physician rater

Oxycodone is not available in all countries, which limits the relevance of this study.
Comments from PAIN+ CPN subscribers

No subscriber has commented on this article yet.