Oral transmucosal fentanyl citrate (OTFC) for the treatment of breakthrough pain in cancer patients: a controlled dose titration study.


Journal Article

Oral transmucosal fentanyl citrate (OTFC) is a novel opioid formulation in which the potent synthetic mu-agonist fentanyl is embedded in a sweetened matrix that is dissolved in the mouth. It is undergoing investigation as a treatment for cancer-related breakthrough pain, a prevalent phenomenon defined as a transitory flare of moderate to severe pain that interrupts otherwise controlled persistent pain. There have been no controlled trials of other treatments for this condition. To evaluate the safety and efficacy of ascending doses of OTFC, a novel controlled dose titration methodology was developed that applied blinding and randomization procedures to the evaluation of recurrent pains in the home environment. The study was a multicenter, randomized, double-blind dose titration study in ambulatory cancer patients. The sample comprised adult patients receiving a scheduled oral opioid regimen equivalent to 60-1000 mg oral morphine per day, who were experiencing at least one episode per day of breakthrough pain and had achieved at least partial relief of this pain by use of an oral opioid rescue dose. After collection of 2 days of baseline data concerning the efficacy of the usual rescue drug, patients were randomly treated with either 200 or 400 microg OTFC unit doses in double-blind fashion. Up to two breakthrough pains each day could be treated with up to four OTFC unit doses per pain. OTFC in unit doses containing 200, 400, 600, 800, 1200 or 1600 microg of fentanyl citrate were available for the study. The unit dose was titrated upward in steps until the patient had 2 consecutive days on which breakthrough pain could be treated with the single unit dose, titration was ineffective at a 1600 microg unit dose, or 20 days elapsed. To maintain the double-blind, orders to titrate up were ignored one-third of the time according to a pre-defined randomization schedule accessible only to an unblinded study pharmacist. Main outcome measures included, numeric or categorical measures of pain intensity, pain relief, and global assessment of drug performance. Dose response relationships were found suggesting that the methodology was sensitive to opioid effects. Seventy-four percent of patients were successfully titrated. There was no relationship between the total daily dose of the fixed schedule opioid regimen and the dose of OTFC required to manage the breakthrough pain. Although the study was not designed to provide a definitive comparison between OTFC and the usual rescue drug, exploratory analyses found that OTFC provided significantly greater analgesic effect at 15, 30 and 60 min, and a more rapid onset of effect, than the usual rescue drug. Adverse effects of the OTFC were typically opioid-related, specifically somnolence, nausea and dizziness. Very few adverse events were severe or serious. This study demonstrated the feasibility of controlled trial methodology in studies of breakthrough pain. OTFC appears to be a safe and effective therapy for breakthrough pain, and dose titration can usually identify a unit dose capable of providing adequate analgesia. If the lack of a relationship between the effective OTFC dose and fixed schedule opioid regimen is confirmed, dose titration may be needed in the clinical use of this formulation. Further investigation of OTFC as a specific treatment for breakthrough pain is warranted.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Portenoy, RK; Payne, R; Coluzzi, P; Raschko, JW; Lyss, A; Busch, MA; Frigerio, V; Ingham, J; Loseth, DB; Nordbrock, E; Rhiner, M

Published Date

  • February 1999

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 79 / 2-3

Start / End Page

  • 303 - 312

PubMed ID

  • 10068176

Pubmed Central ID

  • 10068176

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0304-3959

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/s0304-3959(98)00179-1


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States