Chronic postsurgical pain and cancer: the catch of surviving the unsurvivable

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Chronic postsurgical pain (CPSP) is an important and well recognized cause of much long-term suffering, which in some cases may be preventable and affects many people living with cancer. Unfortunately, general consensus is lacking as to how best reduce the risk of developing CPSP.

Recent findings

Cancer is now not always a short-lived, fatal disease and is now moving towards a chronic illness. Poorly managed perioperative pain is the greatest risk factor for CPSP. Recent trials have examined preventive strategies for CPSP associated with breast surgery and thoracotomy, two operations used in cancer treatment. Standard antinociceptive drugs, 5% lidocaine patches and ketamine do not prevent CPSP. The evidence for gabapentinoids is conflicting. Intravenous lidocaine and, separately, regional anaesthesia appear beneficial.

Summary

Well-managed pain, irrespective of technique, reduces the risk of CPSP. The literature is inconclusive regarding an ‘optimal approach.’ Regional anaesthesia, intravenous lidocaine and the aggressive management of perioperative pain using multimodal analgesia including antineuropathic pain agents such as gabapentinoids and certain antidepressants are recommended. Clinicians should not rely on general anaesthesia, opioids, NSAIDs and ketamine to prevent CPSP. A blanket approach using gabapentinoids for all patients undergoing major surgery is not indicated. Instead, the presence of perioperative neuropathic pain should be checked for regularly.

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