The evaluation of analgesic effects in cancer patients as exemplified by a double-blind, crossover study of immediate-release versus controlled-release morphine
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We compared the effects of controlled-release and immediate-release morphine preparations in adult patients with moderate-to-severe cancer pain and report methodologic approaches to pain evaluation. The study consisted of a two-phase randomized crossover trial preceded by a titration phase; all phases were conducted under double-blind conditions. To evaluate pain intensity, a visual analogue scale (VAS) and the Present Pain Intensity scale of the McGill Pain Questionnaire were used. Additional morphine solution for breakthrough pain was used as an outcome measure. Pain was evaluated nine times daily, which permitted correlation of pain scores with the pharmacokinetic patterns of the test drugs. Side effects were rated once daily, using a scale from 0 to 3. To assess the relative importance of side effects, a toxicity index was designed based on both the intensity and duration of each side effect. The overall VAS pain scores during treatment with controlled-release and immediate-release morphine were 1.3 (SD = 0.1) and 1.4 (SD = 0.2), respectively. Use of supplemental morphine solution for breakthrough pain expressed as the percentage of the daily dose of the test drug was 5.5% for the controlled-release drug and 10.9% for the immediate-release drug. Differences in pain scores, side effects, and supplemental morphine requirement between the two groups were not significant. We discuss methodologic issues in double-blind clinical trials of analgesics, in particular the validity of "Patient Preference" as an outcome measure and problems related to the titration phase.
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