A retrospective review and treatment paradigm of interventional therapies for patients suffering from intractable thoracic chest wall pain in the oncologic population

Pain Med. 2015 Apr;16(4):802-10. doi: 10.1111/pme.12558. Epub 2014 Sep 19.


Introduction: Tumors invading the chest wall and pleura are often incurable, and treatment is targeted toward palliation of symptoms and control of pain. When patients develop tolerance or side effects to systemic opioid therapy, interventional techniques can better optimize a patient's pain. We performed a retrospective review of 146 patients from April 2004 to January 2014 who underwent diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for pain relief. Using four patients as a paradigm for neurolytic approaches to pain relief, we present a therapeutic algorithm for treating patients with intractable thoracic chest wall pain in the oncologic population.

Material and methods: For each patient, we describe the use of intercostal/paravertebral nerve blocks and neurolysis, pulsed radiofrequency ablation (PRFA) of the thoracic nerve roots, or intrathecal pump placement to successfully treat the patient's chest wall pain. Analysis of 146 patient charts is also performed to assess effectiveness of therapy.

Results: Seventy-nine percent of patients undergoing an intercostal nerve diagnostic blockade (with local anesthetic and steroid) stated that they had improved pain relief with 22% having prolonged pain relief (average of 21.5 days). Only 32% of successful diagnostic blockade patients elected to proceed to neurolysis, with a 62% success rate. Seven patients elected to proceed to intrathecal drug delivery.

Discussion: Intercostal nerve diagnostic blockade with local anesthetic and steroid may lead to prolonged pain relief in this population. Furthermore, depending on tumor location, we have developed a paradigm for the treatment of thoracic chest wall pain in the oncologic population.

Keywords: Cancer Pain; Intercostal Nerve; Intercostal Neurolysis; Intrathecal Drug Delivery; Thoracic Chest Wall Pain.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms*
  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Catheter Ablation
  • Chest Pain / etiology
  • Chest Pain / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infusion Pumps, Implantable
  • Intercostal Nerves
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Nerve Block / methods
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain, Intractable / etiology
  • Pain, Intractable / therapy*
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Thoracic Wall


  • Analgesics