Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Efficacy, tolerability and acceptability of oxycodone for cancer-related pain in adults: an updated Cochrane systematic review
  1. Mia Schmidt-Hansen1,
  2. Michael I Bennett2,
  3. Stephanie Arnold1,
  4. Nathan Bromham1 and
  5. Jennifer S Hilgart3
  1. 1National Guideline Alliance, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London, UK
  2. 2Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  3. 3Welsh Institute for Health and Social Care, University of South Wales, Pontypridd, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mia Schmidt-Hansen, National Guideline Alliance, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London NW1 4RG, UK; sapms{at}


Objectives To assess the efficacy, tolerability and acceptability of oxycodone for cancer pain in adults

Methods We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process, Embase, SCI, Conference Proceedings Citation Index-Science, BIOSIS, PsycINFO and four trials registries to November 2016.

Results We included 23 randomised controlled trials with 2144 patients analysed for efficacy and 2363 for safety. Meta-analyses showed no significant differences between controlled-release (CR) and immediate-release oxycodone in pain intensity or adverse events but did show significantly better pain relief after treatment with CR morphine compared with CR oxycodone. However, sensitivity analysis did not corroborate this result. Meta-analyses of the adverse events showed a significantly lower risk of hallucinations after treatment with CR oxycodone compared with CR morphine, but no other differences. 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 in pain relief or adverse events. The quality of this evidence base was limited by the high/unclear risk of bias of the studies and the low event rates for many outcomes.

Conclusions Oxycodone offers similar levels of pain relief and adverse events to other strong opioids. However, hallucinations occurred less with CR oxycodone than with CR morphine, but the quality of this evidence was very low, so this finding should be treated with utmost caution. Our conclusions are consistent with other reviews and suggest that oxycodone can be used first line as an alternative to morphine. However, because it is cheaper, morphine generally remains the first-line opioid of choice.

  • cancer
  • pain
  • quality of life
  • supportive care
View Full Text

Statistics from


  • Contributors MS-H and MIB conceived and designed the review and wrote the protocol. SA devised and undertook the search strategy. MS-H, NB and JSH screened the search results and performed the data extraction and ‘risk of bias’ assessment of the included studies. MS-H devised and performed the analysis strategy and wrote the first draft of the full review. MIB interpreted the results and wrote the ‘Authors conclusions’ section. All the authors approved the final version of the review.

  • Disclaimer The views and opinions expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Systematic Reviews Programme, NIHR, National Health Service, or the Department of Health.

  • Competing interests MIB is a specialist palliative medicine physician and manages people with cancer pain. MIB received lecture fees from Pfizer in 2016.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.