Efficacy and Safety of Methadone as a Second-Line Opioid for Cancer Pain in an Outpatient Clinic: A Prospective Open-Label Study

Oncologist. 2016 Aug;21(8):981-7. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.2015-0503. Epub 2016 Jun 15.


Introduction: Most clinical reports on methadone rotation describe outcomes in hospitalized patients. The few studies that have included outpatients are retrospective. The aim of this study was to assess the efficacy and safety of methadone as a second-line opioid in adult patients with advanced cancer after rotation in routine clinical practice at a palliative care outpatient clinic.

Patients and methods: This was a prospective, open-label study of 145 patients whose treatment was rotated from other opioids to methadone. Informed consent was obtained in all cases. The main outcome measure was change in the variable "worst pain" at day 28. Pain and pain interference were assessed with the Brief Pain Inventory, with side effects evaluated according to the Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events version 3.0. Pain levels were evaluated at study entry and at days 3, 7, 9, 14, 21, and 28.

Results: Rotation to methadone was performed for the following reasons: poor pain control (77.9%), opioid side effects (2.1%), or both (20%). The mean daily oral morphine equivalent dose before rotation was 193.7 mg. The median worst and average pain scores decreased significantly (p < .0001) from baseline to day 28: The median worst pain score decreased from 9 (interquartile range [IQR]: 8-10) to 6 (IQR: 3-8), and the median average pain score decreased from 6 (IQR: 5-7) to 4 (IQR: 2-5). The proportions of patients with moderate to severe worst and average pain decreased by 30.3% and 47.5%, respectively, by day 28. No increase in opioid toxicity was observed during the study.

Conclusion: In outpatients with advanced cancer, rotation to methadone as a second-line opioid was efficacious and safe when using a tiered scheme with close follow-up by experienced health professionals.

Implications for practice: The results of this study, conducted prospectively under real clinical conditions, support the efficacy and safety of oral methadone as a second-line opioid in ambulatory patients with cancer. Moreover, these findings corroborate previously reported outcomes in retrospective outpatient studies and prospective studies that evaluated inpatient populations. Although more research into methadone rotation strategies is still needed, this study describes a successful tiered scheme of oral methadone rotation that was proven safe and effective during follow-up.

Keywords: Ambulatory care; Methadone; Neoplasms; Outpatient; Pain; Palliative care; Palliative medicine.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Cancer Pain / drug therapy*
  • Cancer Pain / physiopathology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methadone / administration & dosage*
  • Methadone / adverse effects
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Outpatients
  • Pain Management*
  • Palliative Care
  • Prospective Studies


  • Methadone