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      Effects of opioids on immunologic parameters that are relevant to anti-tumour immune potential in patients with cancer: a systematic literature review

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          The immune system has a central role in controlling cancer, and factors that influence protective antitumour immunity could therefore have a significant impact on the course of malignant disease. Opioids are essential for the management of cancer pain, and preclinical studies indicate that opioids have the potential to influence these tumour immune surveillance mechanisms. The aim of this systematic literature review is to evaluate the clinical effects of opioids on the immune system of patients with cancer.


          A systematic search of Ovid MEDLINE (PubMed) and Embase, Cochrane database and Web of Knowledge for clinical studies, which evaluated the effects of opioids on the immune system in patients with cancer, was performed.


          Five human studies, which have assessed the effects of opioids on the immune system in patients with cancer, were identified. Although all of these evaluated the effect of morphine on immunologic end points in patients with cancer, none measured the clinical effects.


          Evidence from preclinical, healthy volunteer and surgical models suggests that different opioids variably influence protective anti-tumour immunity; however, actual data derived from cancer populations are inconclusive and definitive recommendations cannot be made. Appropriately designed and powered studies assessing clinical outcomes of opioid use in people with cancer are therefore required to inform oncologists and others involved in cancer care about the rational use of opioids in this patient group.

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          Most cited references 53

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          Opioids and the management of chronic severe pain in the elderly: consensus statement of an International Expert Panel with focus on the six clinically most often used World Health Organization Step III opioids (buprenorphine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone).

          SUMMARY OF CONSENSUS: 1. The use of opioids in cancer pain: The criteria for selecting analgesics for pain treatment in the elderly include, but are not limited to, overall efficacy, overall side-effect profile, onset of action, drug interactions, abuse potential, and practical issues, such as cost and availability of the drug, as well as the severity and type of pain (nociceptive, acute/chronic, etc.). At any given time, the order of choice in the decision-making process can change. This consensus is based on evidence-based literature (extended data are not included and chronic, extended-release opioids are not covered). There are various driving factors relating to prescribing medication, including availability of the compound and cost, which may, at times, be the main driving factor. The transdermal formulation of buprenorphine is available in most European countries, particularly those with high opioid usage, with the exception of France; however, the availability of the sublingual formulation of buprenorphine in Europe is limited, as it is marketed in only a few countries, including Germany and Belgium. The opioid patch is experimental at present in U.S.A. and the sublingual formulation has dispensing restrictions, therefore, its use is limited. It is evident that the population pyramid is upturned. Globally, there is going to be an older population that needs to be cared for in the future. This older population has expectations in life, in that a retiree is no longer an individual who decreases their lifestyle activities. The "baby-boomers" in their 60s and 70s are "baby zoomers"; they want to have a functional active lifestyle. They are willing to make trade-offs regarding treatment choices and understand that they may experience pain, providing that can have increased quality of life and functionality. Therefore, comorbidities--including cancer and noncancer pain, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and postherpetic neuralgia--and patient functional status need to be taken carefully into account when addressing pain in the elderly. World Health Organization step III opioids are the mainstay of pain treatment for cancer patients and morphine has been the most commonly used for decades. In general, high level evidence data (Ib or IIb) exist, although many studies have included only few patients. Based on these studies, all opioids are considered effective in cancer pain management (although parts of cancer pain are not or only partially opioid sensitive), but no well-designed specific studies in the elderly cancer patient are available. Of the 2 opioids that are available in transdermal formulation--fentanyl and buprenorphine--fentanyl is the most investigated, but based on the published data both seem to be effective, with low toxicity and good tolerability profiles, especially at low doses. 2. The use of opioids in noncancer-related pain: Evidence is growing that opioids are efficacious in noncancer pain (treatment data mostly level Ib or IIb), but need individual dose titration and consideration of the respective tolerability profiles. Again no specific studies in the elderly have been performed, but it can be concluded that opioids have shown efficacy in noncancer pain, which is often due to diseases typical for an elderly population. When it is not clear which drugs and which regimes are superior in terms of maintaining analgesic efficacy, the appropriate drug should be chosen based on safety and tolerability considerations. Evidence-based medicine, which has been incorporated into best clinical practice guidelines, should serve as a foundation for the decision-making processes in patient care; however, in practice, the art of medicine is realized when we individualize care to the patient. This strikes a balance between the evidence-based medicine and anecdotal experience. Factual recommendations and expert opinion both have a value when applying guidelines in clinical practice. 3. The use of opioids in neuropathic pain: The role of opioids in neuropathic pain has been under debate in the past but is nowadays more and more accepted; however, higher opioid doses are often needed for neuropathic pain than for nociceptive pain. Most of the treatment data are level II or III, and suggest that incorporation of opioids earlier on might be beneficial. Buprenorphine shows a distinct benefit in improving neuropathic pain symptoms, which is considered a result of its specific pharmacological profile. 4. The use of opioids in elderly patients with impaired hepatic and renal function: Functional impairment of excretory organs is common in the elderly, especially with respect to renal function. For all opioids except buprenorphine, half-life of the active drug and metabolites is increased in the elderly and in patients with renal dysfunction. It is, therefore, recommended that--except for buprenorphine--doses be reduced, a longer time interval be used between doses, and creatinine clearance be monitored. Thus, buprenorphine appears to be the top-line choice for opioid treatment in the elderly. 5. Opioids and respiratory depression: Respiratory depression is a significant threat for opioid-treated patients with underlying pulmonary condition or receiving concomitant central nervous system (CNS) drugs associated with hypoventilation. Not all opioids show equal effects on respiratory depression: buprenorphine is the only opioid demonstrating a ceiling for respiratory depression when used without other CNS depressants. The different features of opioids regarding respiratory effects should be considered when treating patients at risk for respiratory problems, therefore careful dosing must be maintained. 6. Opioids and immunosuppression: Age is related to a gradual decline in the immune system: immunosenescence, which is associated with increased morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and cancer, and decreased efficacy of immunotherapy, such as vaccination. The clinical relevance of the immunosuppressant effects of opioids in the elderly is not fully understood, and pain itself may also cause immunosuppression. Providing adequate analgesia can be achieved without significant adverse events, opioids with minimal immunosuppressive characteristics should be used in the elderly. The immunosuppressive effects of most opioids are poorly described and this is one of the problems in assessing true effect of the opioid spectrum, but there is some indication that higher doses of opioids correlate with increased immunosuppressant effects. Taking into consideration all the very limited available evidence from preclinical and clinical work, buprenorphine can be recommended, while morphine and fentanyl cannot. 7. Safety and tolerability profile of opioids: The adverse event profile varies greatly between opioids. As the consequences of adverse events in the elderly can be serious, agents should be used that have a good tolerability profile (especially regarding CNS and gastrointestinal effects) and that are as safe as possible in overdose especially regarding effects on respiration. Slow dose titration helps to reduce the incidence of typical initial adverse events such as nausea and vomiting. Sustained release preparations, including transdermal formulations, increase patient compliance.
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            Evidence that opioids may have toll-like receptor 4 and MD-2 effects.

            Opioid-induced proinflammatory glial activation modulates wide-ranging aspects of opioid pharmacology including: opposition of acute and chronic opioid analgesia, opioid analgesic tolerance, opioid-induced hyperalgesia, development of opioid dependence, opioid reward, and opioid respiratory depression. However, the mechanism(s) contributing to opioid-induced proinflammatory actions remains unresolved. The potential involvement of toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4) was examined using in vitro, in vivo, and in silico techniques. Morphine non-stereoselectively induced TLR4 signaling in vitro, blocked by a classical TLR4 antagonist and non-stereoselectively by naloxone. Pharmacological blockade of TLR4 signaling in vivo potentiated acute intrathecal morphine analgesia, attenuated development of analgesic tolerance, hyperalgesia, and opioid withdrawal behaviors. TLR4 opposition to opioid actions was supported by morphine treatment of TLR4 knockout mice, which revealed a significant threefold leftward shift in the analgesia dose response function, versus wildtype mice. A range of structurally diverse clinically-employed opioid analgesics was found to be capable of activating TLR4 signaling in vitro. Selectivity in the response was identified since morphine-3-glucuronide, a morphine metabolite with no opioid receptor activity, displayed significant TLR4 activity, whilst the opioid receptor active metabolite, morphine-6-glucuronide, was devoid of such properties. In silico docking simulations revealed ligands bound preferentially to the LPS binding pocket of MD-2 rather than TLR4. An in silico to in vitro prediction model was built and tested with substantial accuracy. These data provide evidence that select opioids may non-stereoselectively influence TLR4 signaling and have behavioral consequences resulting, in part, via TLR4 signaling.
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              Effect of anaesthetic technique and other perioperative factors on cancer recurrence.

              Surgical excision is the mainstay of treatment for potentially curable solid tumours. Metastatic disease is the most important cause of cancer-related death in these patients. The likelihood of tumour metastases depends on the balance between the metastatic potential of the tumour and the anti-metastatic host defences, of which cell-mediated immunity, and natural killer cell function in particular, is a critical component. It is increasingly recognized that anaesthetic technique and other perioperative factors have the potential to effect long-term outcome after cancer surgery. Surgery can inhibit important host defences and promote the development of metastases. Anaesthetic technique and drug choice can interact with the cellular immune system and effect long-term outcome. The potential effect of i.v. anaesthetics, volatile agents, local anaesthetic drugs, opiates, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are reviewed here. There is particular interest at present in the effect of regional anaesthesia, which appears to be beneficial. Retrospective analyses have shown an outcome benefit for paravertebral analgesia for breast cancer surgery and epidural analgesia for prostatectomy. Blood transfusion, pain, stress, and hypothermia are other potentially important perioperative factors to consider.

                Author and article information

                Br J Cancer
                Br. J. Cancer
                British Journal of Cancer
                Nature Publishing Group
                26 August 2014
                15 July 2014
                : 111
                : 5
                : 866-873
                [1 ]Hull York Medical School, University of Hull , Hull HU6 7RX, UK
                [2 ]Palliative Medicine Research Department, Beatson Oncology Centre , Glasgow G11 0YN, UK
                [3 ]Department of Oncology, The Medical School, University of Sheffield , Sheffield S10 2RX, UK
                [4 ]John van Geest Cancer Research Centre, Nottingham Trent University , Nottingham NG11 8NS, UK
                Author notes
                Copyright © 2014 Cancer Research UK

                From twelve months after its original publication, this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

                Translational Therapeutics

                Oncology & Radiotherapy

                opioids, morphine, neoplasms, immunity, nk cells, t cells


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