Pain in patients with pancreatic cancer: prevalence, mechanisms, management and future developments

Andreas I. Koulouris, Paul Banim, Andrew Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)
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Pain affects approximately 80% of patients with pancreatic cancer, with half requiring strong opioid analgesia, namely: morphine-based drugs on step three of the WHO analgesic ladder (as opposed to the weak opioids: codeine and tramadol). The presence of pain is associated with reduced survival. This article reviews the literature regarding pain: prevalence, mechanisms, pharmacological, and endoscopic treatments and identifies areas for research to develop individualized patient pain management pathways. The online literature review was conducted through: PubMed, Clinical Key, Uptodate, and NICE Evidence. There are two principal mechanisms for pain: pancreatic duct obstruction and pancreatic neuropathy which, respectively, activate mechanical and chemical nociceptors. In pancreatic neuropathy, several histological, molecular, and immunological changes occur which correlate with pain including: transient receptor potential cation channel activation and mast cell infiltration. Current pain management is empirical rather etiology-based and is informed by the WHO analgesic ladder for first-line therapies, and then endoscopic ultrasound-guided celiac plexus neurolysis (EUS-CPN) in patients with resistant pain. For EUS-CPN, there is only one clinical trial reporting a benefit, which has limited generalizability. Case series report pancreatic duct stenting gives effective analgesia, but there are no clinical trials. Progress in understanding the mechanisms for pain and when this occurs in the natural history, together with assessing new therapies both pharmacological and endoscopic, will enable individualized care and may improve patients’ quality of life and survival.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)861–870
JournalDigestive Diseases and Sciences
Issue number4
Early online date22 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017

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