Laxative management in ambulatory cancer patients on opioid therapy: a prospective, open-label investigation of polyethylene glycol, sodium picosulphate and lactulose

Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2012 Jan;21(1):131-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2354.2011.01286.x. Epub 2011 Aug 31.


Constipation and the laxatives polyethylene glycol (PEG), sodium picosulphate (SPS) and lactulose (L) were investigated in outpatients with cancer and on opioid therapy. Randomly selected patients were enrolled in a prospective, controlled, open-label trial. Endpoints were number of patients taking laxatives >28 days, number of patients with a stool-free interval >72 h (sfi72), dosage, numerical rating scale (NRS) for constipation, and European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Quality of Life (QoL) questionnaire scores. The 348 patients had comparable demographic and medical data. In this ambulatory population, mobility scores remained unaffected. Constipation incidence was 5.7%, with sfi72 42, mean NRS 2.3557 and mean QoL 2.1. A total of 53.2% discontinued their laxative medication. Laxative use correlated with higher opioid usage (morphine-equivalent mg/day: no laxative 98.2, SPS 128.2, PEG 139.9, L 154.5). PEG was the most frequently prescribed laxative (PEG 27.3%, SPS 10.3%, L 9.2%). PEG (sfi72 12.6%, NRS 2.2, QoL 2.1) and SPS (sfi72 11.1%, NRS 2.7, QoL 2.2) proved more effective than L (sfi72 15.5%, NRS 3.8, QoL 2.5). In spite of opioid therapy, the incidence of constipation was low in these ambulatory cancer pain patients at an early disease stage. For prevention of constipation, PEG or SPS is recommended instead of L.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Cathartics / therapeutic use*
  • Citrates
  • Constipation / chemically induced
  • Constipation / drug therapy*
  • Constipation / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lactulose / therapeutic use*
  • Laxatives / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Picolines / therapeutic use
  • Polyethylene Glycols / therapeutic use
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Cathartics
  • Citrates
  • Laxatives
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Picolines
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Lactulose
  • picosulfate sodium