BACKGROUND: Opioids are the foundation of treatment for cancer pain but can cause side-effects, one of the most common being nausea and vomiting, which can impair quality of life.
OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the evidence for the management of opioid-induced nausea and vomiting. This systematic review was undertaken as part of an update of the European Association for Palliative Care's opioid guidelines.
DESIGN: Searches of MEDLINE (1966-2017) and EMBASE (1980-2017) were done. Key eligibility criteria were: randomized controlled trials conducted in patients with cancer. The Grading of Recommendations Assessment Development and Evaluations system was applied to formulate recommendations.
RESULTS: Fifteen studies were eligible (1524 patients). The studies were grouped as follows: opioid switching (n = 8); the use of antiemetics to treat opioid-induced nausea and vomiting (n = 4); and change of route of administration of the opioid (n = 3). Three recommendations were formulated: A weak recommendation for switching from morphine to oxycodone in cancer patients with nausea (quality D); a weak recommendation for switching from tramadol to either codeine or hydrocodone for pain in cancer patients with nausea (quality D); and a weak recommendation for switching from morphine/oxycodone to methadone using the three-day switch method in patients with increasing pain considered untreatable with further opioid titration and/or with opioid-related side effects (quality C).
CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review can make only weak recommendations for the management of opioid-induced nausea and vomiting. There remains a need for high-quality studies before strong recommendations on the management of opioid-induced nausea and vomiting can be made.