Oral transmucosal fentanyl citrate (OTFC); Actiq) is a drug delivery formulation used for management of breakthrough cancer pain. Previous studies with open-label comparisons indicated OTFC was more effective than patients' usual opioid for breakthrough pain. The objective of this study was to compare OTFC and morphine sulfate immediate release (MSIR) for management of breakthrough pain in patients receiving a fixed scheduled opioid regimen. This double-blind, double-dummy, randomized, multiple crossover study was conducted at 19 US university- and community-based hospitals and clinics and comprised 134 adult ambulatory cancer patients. Patients were receiving a fixed scheduled opioid regimen equivalent to 60-1000 mg/day oral morphine or 50-300 microg/h transdermal fentanyl, were using a 'successful' MSIR dose (15-60 mg) as defined by entry criteria, and were experiencing 1-4 episodes of breakthrough pain per day. In open-label fashion, OTFC was titrated such that a single unit (200-1600 microg) provided adequate pain relief with acceptable side effects. Successfully titrated patients entered the double-blind phase of the study and received ten prenumbered sets of randomized capsules and oral transmucosal units. Five sets were the successful OTFC dose paired with placebo capsules, and five sets were placebo OTFC paired with capsules containing the successful MSIR dose. Patients took one set of study medication for each episode of target breakthrough pain. Pain intensity (PI), pain relief (PR) and global performance of medication (GP) scores were recorded. Pain intensity differences (PID) were calculated and 15-min PID was the primary efficacy variable. Adverse events were recorded. Sixty-nine percent of patients (93/134) found a successful dose of OTFC. OTFC yielded outcomes (PI, PID, and PR) at all time points that were significantly better than MSIR. GP also favored OTFC and more patients opted to continue with OTFC than MSIR following the study. Somnolence, nausea, constipation, and dizziness were the most common drug-associated side effects. In conclusion, OTFC was more effective than MSIR in treating breakthrough cancer pain.