WHO Guidelines for the pharmacological and radiotherapeutic management of cancer pain in adults and adolescents
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Cancers are among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, responsible for 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Pain is experienced by 55% of patients undergoing anti-cancer treatment and by 66% of patients who have advanced, metastatic, or terminal disease. This can be relieved in most cases through medicines and other treatments.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed Guidelines for the pharmacologic and radiotherapeutic management of cancer pain in adults and adolescents to provide evidence-based guidance to initiating and managing cancer pain. The aims of these guidelines are to provide guidance to health-care providers (i.e. the end-users of these guidelines: physicians, nurses, pharmacists and caregivers) on the adequate relief of pain associated with cancer. They also assist policy-makers, programme managers and public health personnel to create and facilitate appropriately balanced policies on opioids and prescribing regulations for effective and safe cancer pain management. Proper and effective stewardship of opioid analgesics in the cancer treatment setting is essential to ensure the safety of patients and to reduce the risk of diversion of medicine into society.
The goal of cancer pain management is to relieve pain to a level that allows for an acceptable quality of life. The last set of WHO guidelines focused on cancer pain management were issued in 1996.
The clinical guidelines and recommendations in this document are organized into three focal areas:
- Analgesia of cancer pain: This addresses the choice of analgesic medicine when initiating pain relief and the choice of opioid for maintenance of pain relief, including optimization of rescue medication, route of administration, and opioid rotation and cessation.
- Adjuvant medicines for cancer pain: This includes the use of steroids, antidepressants and anticonvulsants as adjuvant medicines.
- Management of pain related to bone metastases: This incorporates the use of bisphosphonates and radiotherapy to manage bone metastases.