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Papers of the Week

Papers: 14 Mar 2020 - 20 Mar 2020

Human Studies, Pharmacology/Drug Development

2020 Mar 11

J Palliat Med

Topical Ketamine with Other Adjuvants: Underutilized for Refractory Cancer Pain? A Case Series and Suggested Revision of the World Health Organization Stepladder for Cancer Pain.


Uncontrolled cancer pain is a significant problem in palliative medicine. Opioids are often first-line treatment that increase risks of analgesic tolerance and hyperalgesia. Topical ketamine with other adjuvant pain medications is an often-overlooked treatment, yet may be most effective in difficult-to-treat cancer pain. We report a case series of hospice patients with uncontrolled cancer pain who were suboptimally treated with opioids and nerve blocks, whose symptoms responded to topical ketamine with other adjuvants. We review the pronociceptive properties of opioids and how topical multimodal treatment of cancer pain can be more effective than standard opioids, other topical adjuvant medications, and nerve blocks. We discuss the shortcomings of the World Health Organization (WHO) stepladder for the treatment of cancer pain and suggest an adjuvant treatment algorithm, directing physicians to appropriate adjuvant pain agents based on pain type and distinct receptor actions. This is a retrospective case series of patients who responded to topical multimodal pain treatment with implementation of findings into an addendum to the WHO stepladder. Subjects were from a case series of community-based hospice patients with previously uncontrolled cancer pain. Measurement was made by self-report of pain levels using the 10-point numeric pain rating scale. Patients' pain was controlled with topical adjuvant medications with return to previously lost function and prevention of otherwise escalating opioid dosing. These patient cases reveal how ketamine-based topical treatment for cancer pain can be more effective than standard opioids, other topical adjuvant medications, and nerve blocks with no noted side effects and observed reduction in opioid consumption.