Comparison and analysis of the animal models used to study the effect of morphine on tumour growth and metastasis

Br J Pharmacol. 2015 Jan;172(2):251-9. doi: 10.1111/bph.12589. Epub 2014 Jul 1.


The effect of opioids on tumour growth and metastasis has been debated for many years, with recent emphasis on the possibility that they might influence the rate of disease-free survival after tumour resection when used in the perioperative pain management of cancer surgery patients. The literature presents conflicting and inconclusive in vitro and in vivo data about the potential effect of opioids, especially morphine, on tumour growth and metastasis. To inform clinical practice, appropriate animal models are needed to test whether opioids alter the course of tumour growth and metastasis. Here, we review the literature on animal-based studies testing the effect of morphine on cancer so far, and analyse differences between the models used that may explain the discrepancies in published results. Such analysis should elucidate the role of opioids in cancer and help define ideal pre-clinical models to provide definitive answers.

Linked articles: This article is part of a themed section on Opioids: New Pathways to Functional Selectivity. To view the other articles in this section visit

Keywords: animal models; metastasis; morphine; tumour growth.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Administration Routes
  • Humans
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Morphine / pharmacology
  • Morphine / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis* / pathology
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / surgery
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / prevention & control
  • Perioperative Period
  • Receptors, Opioid / metabolism


  • Receptors, Opioid
  • Morphine