Breakthrough cancer pain (btcp) represents an important element in the spectrum of cancer pain management. Because most btcp episodes peak in intensity within a few minutes, speed of medication onset is crucial for proper control. In Canada, several current provincial guidelines for the management of cancer pain include a brief discussion about the treatment of btcp; however, there are no uniform national recommendations for the management of btcp. That lack, accompanied by unequal access to pain medication across the country, contributes to both regional and provincial variability in the management of btcp. Currently, immediate-release oral opioids are the treatment of choice for btcp. This approach might not always offer optimal speed for onset of action and duration to match the rapid nature of an episode of btcp. Novel transmucosal fentanyl formulations might be more appropriate for some types of btcp, but limited access to such drugs hinders their use. In addition, the recognition of btcp and its proper assessment, which are crucial steps toward appropriate treatment selection, remain challenging for many health care professionals. To facilitate appropriate management of btcp, a group of prominent Canadian specialists in palliative care, oncology, and anesthesiology convened to develop a set of recommendations and suggestions to assist Canadian health care providers in the treatment of btcp and the alleviation of the suffering and discomfort experienced by adult cancer patients.
Clinical management of breakthrough cancer pain (BTcP) is still not satisfactory despite the availability of effective pharmacological agents. This is in part linked to the lack of clarity regarding certain essential aspects of BTcP, including terminology, definition, epidemiology and assessment. Other barriers to effective management include a widespread prejudice among doctors and patients concerning the use of opioids, and inadequate assessment of pain severity, resulting in the prescription of ineffective drugs or doses. This review presents an overview of the appropriate and inappropriate actions to take in the diagnosis and treatment of BTcP, as determined by a panel of experts in the field. The ultimate aim is to provide a practical contribution to the unresolved issues in the management of BTcP. Five 'things to do' and five 'things not to do' in the diagnosis and treatment of BTcP are proposed, and evidence supporting said recommendations are described. It is the duty of all healthcare workers involved in managing cancer patients to be mindful of the possibility of BTcP occurrence and not to underestimate its severity. It is vital that all the necessary steps are carried out to establish an accurate and timely diagnosis, principally by establishing effective communication with the patient, the main information source. It is crucial that BTcP is treated with an effective pharmacological regimen and drug(s), dose and administration route prescribed are designed to suit the particular type of pain and importantly the individual needs of the patient.