Intrathecal Drug Delivery for the Treatment of Cancer-Associated Chronic Pain in Children

Neuromodulation. 2021 Sep 14. doi: 10.1111/ner.13535. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Management of refractory cancer-associated pain can be particularly challenging. Regional anesthesia is an alternative modality to treat acute and chronic refractory pain. Intrathecal (IT) drug delivery of opioids and other adjuncts has been used to treat refractory cancer-associated pain. This method has been shown to be relatively safe and effective, often associated with fewer systemic side effects when compared to oral or IV opioid administration. While intrathecal drug delivery systems (IDDS) are regularly used in the adult cancer population for the treatment of refractory, chronic pain, there is limited evidence of similar use in the pediatric setting.

Materials and methods: We performed a systematic review using conventional Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses methodology to identify studies reporting IT drug delivery for the treatment of pediatric cancer-related pain. The primary outcome was satisfaction with analgesia categorized as "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory." Functional benefits, previous systemic pharmaceutical interventions, previous non-IT regional interventions, indication for IT drug delivery, IT drugs used, and method of delivery were collected.

Results: A total of 11 studies were identified, describing 16 patients with cancer-related pain treated with IT drug delivery. The average age of the cohort was 12.25 years, with ages ranging from 3 to 19 years. Most patients were adolescent (10/16). All patients had cancer diagnoses, with most patients suffering from solid tumor pain (14/16). Nearly all patients achieved satisfactory analgesia through IT drug delivery (15/16) and most reported functional benefits in addition to analgesia (13/16). Majority received IT drugs via external catheters (9/16). One severe complication of respiratory depression was reported, which resolved following naloxone administration.

Conclusions: There exist children with cancer whose pain is refractory to the standard approaches and may benefit from IT drug delivery. The existing data, although limited and of low tier evidence, suggest that IT drug delivery has been effective in the pediatric cancer population.

Keywords: Cancer pain; chronic pain; intrathecal drug delivery; pediatric patients; regional anesthesia.

Publication types

  • Review