Should Buprenorphine Be Considered a First-Line Opioid for the Treatment of Moderate to Severe Cancer Pain?

Marcin Chwistek, Dylan Sherry, Leigh Kinczewski, Maria J. Silveira, Mellar Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

1 Scopus citations


Cancer pain remains a significant problem worldwide, affecting more than half of patients receiving anti-cancer treatment and most patients with advanced disease. Opioids remain the cornerstone of therapy, and morphine, given its availability, multiple formulations, price, and evidence base, is typically considered the first-line treatment for moderate to severe cancer pain. Buprenorphine has emerged in recent decades as an alternative opioid for treating chronic pain and substance use disorder (SUD). However, it remains controversial whether buprenorphine should be considered a first-line opioid for moderate to severe cancer pain. In this "Controversies in Palliative Care" article, three expert clinicians independently answer this question. Specifically, each group provides a synopsis of the key studies that inform their thought process, share practical advice on their clinical approach, and highlight the opportunities for future research. All three groups agree that there is a place for the use of buprenorphine as a first-line opioid in cancer pain. Specifically, they mention populations of elderly patients, patients with renal failure, and those with (SUD). They also underscore many unique and favorable characteristics of buprenorphine, such as the low risk for respiratory depression, lack of adverse effects on testosterone levels in men, no risk of serotonin syndrome when combined with antidepressants, and ease of use given its transdermal, transmucosal, and sublingual formulations. However, further studies are needed to guide the use of buprenorphine for cancer pain—primarily randomized clinical trials (RCTs) comparing buprenorphine with other opioids in various pain syndromes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e638-e643
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • Buprenorphine
  • cancer pain
  • opioids
  • palliative care
  • supportive oncology


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