A systematic review of topical treatments to control the odor of malignant fungating wounds

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2010 Jun;39(6):1065-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2009.11.319.


Context: Malignant fungating wounds (MFW) result from cutaneous infiltration by carcinogenic cells. Fetid odor, profuse exudate, pain, and infection are common symptoms that add to the physical and psychological suffering of patients with MFW. The topical treatment of MFW remains controversial.

Objectives: To collect evidence about topical treatments to control the odor of MFW.

Methods: Fourteen sources of data were used, without restriction in terms of language, period, or study design. The patient, intervention, comparison, and outcome strategy for the development of research questions yielded 334 descriptors related to oncology, MFW, topical treatments, medications, and symptoms of these lesions. Data from the abstracts of these articles were extracted by two independent researchers and decisions were reached by consensus among them. Through an analysis of these abstracts, studies that broached the topic of MFW odor were selected. These studies were analyzed in their entirety and were classified according to quality, levels of evidence, and grade of recommendation.

Results: Of 11,111 studies identified, 325 (2.93%) made reference to the control of some symptoms of MFW by means of topical interventions: 12.4% related to odor, 16.8% to exudate, 17.8% to bleeding, 31.0% to pain, and 22.0% to MFW-related infection. Within the 59 studies that analyzed odor control, seven were clinical trials (35%), five were case series (25%), and eight (40%) were case studies. Eleven topical treatments were identified. Topical metronidazole and Mesalt dressing yielded 2b level of evidence or B grade of recommendation. Activated carbon dressing and curcumin ointment yielded 2c level of evidence or B grade of recommendation. C and D grades of recommendation were observed for seven topical treatments: topical arsenic trioxide, essential oils, green tea extract, hydropolymer dressings, antiseptic solutions, hydrogels, and debridement enzymes. The variety of interventions and of the methodological quality of the studies did not allow for meta-analysis.

Conclusion: Of the 59 studies of odor, 20 fulfilled all the criteria for inclusion. Few studies of high quality were found, and the principal methodological flaws were the design of the studies, the sample size, and the absence of scales to measure odor. Grade B evidence for the treatment of MFW was found with topical metronidazole, Mesalt dressing, activated carbon dressing, and curcumin ointment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Bandages
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Odorants / prevention & control*
  • Skin Neoplasms / complications*
  • Skin Neoplasms / secondary*