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Designing a clinical trial of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for cancer pain: a survey of UK palliative care physicians


Objectives Insufficient quality evidence exists to support or refute the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in the management of cancer pain. We aimed to determine the most clinically pragmatic design of a future randominsed controlled trial (RCT), based on how NSAIDs are currently used and perceived efficacy.

Methods An online survey was distributed to members of the Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland examining NSAID use, indications and perceived efficacy, as well as duration of respondents’ experience in palliative medicine.

Results 23% of 968 members responded. A placebo-controlled trial of NSAIDs as a strong opioid adjunct in cancer-related bone pain was considered the most clinically pragmatic design. Concerning current practice, oral administration was the preferential route (79.4%), dosed regularly (79.5%). Selective cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) inhibitors and non-selective COX-2 inhibitors were considered similarly effective by 45% in cancer pain; ibuprofen being the first line oral NSAID of choice (42.6%). Treatment efficacy is generally determined within 1 week (94.3%). On a Likert scale, most physicians consider NSAIDs improve cancer pain either ‘sometimes’ (57.7%) or ‘often’ (40%). Years of specialist palliative care experience did not affect perception of efficacy (p=0.353).

Conclusions A randomised controlled trial of NSAIDs as opioid adjuncts for cancer-related bone pain would be the most pragmatic design supported by palliative care clinicians to benefit clinical practice.

  • cancer
  • pain
  • symptoms and symptom management

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