From the Journals

Opioids after lung cancer surgery may up all-cause mortality risk



Patients who undergo lung cancer surgery and who receive long-term opioids for pain relief have an elevated risk of all-cause mortality at 2 years, a new study suggests. That risk was 40% higher than among patients who did not receive opioids.

“This is the first study to identify the association of new long-term opioid use with poorer long-term survival outcomes after lung cancer surgery using real-world data based on a national registration database,” said the authors, led by In-Ae Song, MD, Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, Seongnam, South Korea.

“New long-term opioid use may be associated with poor long-term survival outcomes, especially in potent opioid users,” they concluded.

Long-term opioid use might promote protumor activity secondary to immunosuppression along with migration of tumor cells and angiogenesis, the authors suggested.

The study was published online in Regional Anesthesia and Pain.

The finding comes from a study that used the South Korean National Health Insurance database as a nationwide registration data source. “All patients undergoing lung cancer surgery between 2011 and 2018 were included,” the authors noted.

In total, 54,509 patients were included in the final analysis. Six months after undergoing the procedure, 3,325 patients (6.1%) had been prescribed opioids continuously and regularly. These patients constituted the new long-term opioid user group.

This finding fits in with those from past studies that have suggested that new long-term postoperative pain is reported in 4%-12% of patients who undergo lung cancer surgeries, the authors commented.

The new study found that all-cause mortality at 2 years was significantly higher in the new long-term opioid user group than it was in the non–opioid user group (17.3% vs. 9.3%; P < .001).

Moreover, the new long-term opioid user group were at 43% higher risk of 2-year lung cancer mortality and 29% higher risk of 2-year non–lung cancer mortality.

The investigators divided the patients who had received long-term opioids into two subgroups – those who received more potent opioids (1.6%), and those who received less potent opioids (4.5%).

There was a big difference in the results for all-cause mortality.

Compared with nonopioid users, long-term use of less potent opioids was associated with a 2-year mortality risk of only 22% (P < .001), whereas the patients who used potent opioids were at a 92% increased risk of all-cause mortality.

A number of risk factors were associated with an increased rate of new long-term opioid use. These included older age, being male, length of stay in hospital, and comorbidities.

In addition, patients who were more likely to receive long-term opioids included those who had received neoadjuvant and adjuvant chemotherapy and those who had experienced preoperative anxiety disorder or insomnia disorder.

In contrast, patients who underwent video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery were less likely to receive long-term opioids, the authors noted.

The authors disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on

Recommended Reading

Reporting Coronary Artery Calcium on Low-Dose Computed Tomography Impacts Statin Management in a Lung Cancer Screening Population
Gene mutations may drive lung cancer in never-smokers
‘Smoking gun–level’ evidence found linking air pollution with lung cancer
In early NSCLC, comorbidities linked to survival
In NSCLC, not all EGFR mutations are the same