Study Shows Cancer Patients Can Benefit from Opioid Switching

Research & Clinical Trials
Reading Time: 3 mins
Publication Date: 11/26/2018
Fact Checked
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Reviewed is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource

The Mesothelioma Center at has provided patients and their loved ones the most updated and reliable information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure since 2006.

Our team of Patient Advocates includes a medical doctor, a registered nurse, health services administrators, veterans, VA-accredited Claims Agents, an oncology patient navigator and hospice care expert. Their combined expertise means we help any mesothelioma patient or loved one through every step of their cancer journey.

More than 30 contributors, including mesothelioma doctors, survivors, health care professionals and other experts, have peer-reviewed our website and written unique research-driven articles to ensure you get the highest-quality medical and health information.

About The Mesothelioma Center at

  • Assisting mesothelioma patients and their loved ones since 2006.
  • Helps more than 50% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
  • 5-star reviewed mesothelioma and support organization.
Learn More About Us


"My family has only the highest compliment for the assistance and support that we received from The Mesothelioma Center. This is a staff of compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who respect what your family is experiencing and who go the extra mile to make an unfortunate diagnosis less stressful. Information and assistance were provided by The Mesothelioma Center at no cost to our family."
Mesothelioma patient’s daughter
  • Google Review Rating
  • BBB Review Rating

How to Cite’s Article


Povtak, T. (2020, October 16). Study Shows Cancer Patients Can Benefit from Opioid Switching. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from


Povtak, Tim. "Study Shows Cancer Patients Can Benefit from Opioid Switching.", 16 Oct 2020,


Povtak, Tim. "Study Shows Cancer Patients Can Benefit from Opioid Switching." Last modified October 16, 2020.

Opioid switching

Switching from one prescription opioid to another often solves the problem of debilitating side effects or inadequate pain relief, according to a recent study involving a wide range of cancer patients.

Opioids are not all the same. And neither are those they are helping.

Despite the increasing government restrictions and the frenzy over potential abuse, opioids can be a lifesaver for a mesothelioma patient finding the right fit.

“I’ve been through both sides of that switching issue,” said Tim Crisler, a 16-year pleural mesothelioma survivor told The Mesothelioma Center at “It worked great for me once, but it didn’t work very well for me the last time.”

Supportive Care in Cancer published the multicenter study about opioid switching in October. It involved 498 cancer patients in Italy.

Switching Worked for Many

All patients experienced moderate to severe pain related to a cancer and took one of four opioid options: Morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl or buprenorphine.

Almost one-fourth of those patients had cancer in the lungs or the pleura, which included patients with pleural mesothelioma.

Of the patients who switched opioids, 51.4 percent reported significantly improved pain reduction. A better control of side effects was found in 43.5 percent of the patients who switched.

“Opioid switching makes available a better pain relief, or adverse reactions control, in about 50 percent of patients who are not doing well,” study authors wrote. “We must therefore conclude that the switch can help in the management of some clinical cases.”

Oscar Corli of Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan, Italy, was the lead author.

“Opioids are an effective and accepted method to treat cancer pain,” Erin McMenamin, radiation oncology nurse practitioner at Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, told Cancer Network after reviewing the study. “The ‘new’ opioid may provide improved relief and fewer side effects.”

Previous reports have shown that switching opioids results in adequate pain control in 50 to 90 percent of the cancer cases, but the burden of toxic reactions often limits the practice.

People Respond Differently to Same Drug

The issue has been debated for years in the medical community.

Physicians often see unmanaged pain and toxic side effects leading to patients abandoning their treatment entirely.

The study also reported a wide disparity in opioid-induced toxicity among patients.

“Everyone does not respond the same to each of the opioids,” McMenamin said. “Some patients don’t respond to certain medications, or require a much higher dose than others in order to obtain pain relief. Others experience side effects that limit the ability to escalate the dose to obtain adequate pain control.”

Crisler, who lives north of Atlanta, has seen the pros and cons of switching opioids. His pain problems stem partly from nerve damage sustained during his extrapleural pneumonectomy in 2002.

Switching Helped and Hurt Mesothelioma Patient

After struggling with post-surgery pain management for several years, Crisler switched to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that worked especially well for him.

Fentanyl allowed him to live a relatively normal life, helping him serve as a shining, post-surgery success story for Dr. David Sugarbaker, his doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2002.

Crisler’s motorcycle trips across the country often made him forget he ever had the disease. He was one of the very few pleural mesothelioma patients who lived more than 10 years after diagnosis.

“Fentanyl became the drug we settled on because it worked so well for me,” he said. “It was no problem, low dose, and no side effects. It worked great for me.”

Unfortunately, government regulations started changing, reducing his ability to obtain it. His doctor came under pressure to reduce his ability to get it. The cost became prohibitive for Crisler.

Early in 2017, he was switched to another opioid, changing his life significantly for the worse.

The pain control has diminished considerably. The side effects have been almost crippling at times.

His once-active lifestyle has disappeared. His motorcycle sits in the carport collecting dust.

The mesothelioma never returned, but the pain has risen considerably.

“No doctor is going to risk losing his license to give me what I need,” he said. “Now I fear living a long, screaming life. I’d switch back in a heartbeat if I could.”

Connect with a Mesothelioma Doctor
Find a Top Specialist Near You