The use of anti-inflammatory drugs in cancer pain

Cancer Treat Rev. 2001 Feb;27(1):51-61. doi: 10.1053/ctrv.2000.0192.


The role of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in cancer pain has been well established in the treatment of mild pain and also alone or in association with opioids for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. Acutely, NSAIDs may be more than mild analgesics, and may provide additional analgesia when combined with opioids. However, NSAIDs have ceiling effects and there is no therapeutic gain from increasing dosages beyond those recommended. As there is no clearly superior NSAID, the choice should be based on experience and the toxicity profile that probably relates to the COX-1:COX-2 ratio. Among the older drugs, ibuprofen seems to have these properties.Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have been shown to have an opioid-sparing effect. Although the value of a simple narcotic-sparing effect may be questioned in cancer pain treatment, the use of NSAIDs may be useful when the increase in opioid dosage determine the occurrence of opioid toxicity. Like opioids, NSAIDs should not be considered analgesics for a specific type or cause of pain. There is a lack of evidence for any difference between different routes of NSAIDs administration. The long-term toxicity of NSAIDs in cancer pain is poorly defined due to a lack of studies. A variety of strategies have been used in an attempt to reduce the risks associated with NSAID therapy. Those NSAIDs that are weak COX-1 inhibitors may be preferred. In addition, concomitant administration of misoprostol is recommended in patients at increased risk for upper gastrointestinal complications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms*
  • Pain, Intractable / drug therapy*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal