Background: Oral mucositis related pain during CTRT in head and neck cancers is a common problem. Unfortunately, in spite of it being common, there is limited evidence for selection of systemic analgesic in this situation. Hence, this study was designed to compare the analgesic effect of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (diclofenac) versus a weak opioid (tramadol).
Patients and methods: This was an open-label, parallel design, superiority randomised controlled study. In this study, head and neck cancer patients undergoing radical or adjuvant chemoradiation, who had grade 1 or above mucositis (in accordance with Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events version 4.03) and had pain related to it were randomly assigned to either diclofenac or tramadol for mucositis related pain control. The primary endpoint was analgesia after the first dose. The secondary endpoints were the rate of change in analgesic within 1 week, adverse events and quality of life.
Results: One hundred and twenty-eight patients were randomised, 66 in diclofenac and 62 in tramadol arm. The median area under the curve for graph of pain across time after first dose of pain medication for the diclofenac arm and the tramadol arm was 348.936 units (range: 113.64–1,969.23) and 420.87 (101.97–1,465.96), respectively, (p = 0.05619). Five patients (8.1%) in the tramadol arm and 11 patients (16.7%) in the diclofenac arm required a change in analgesic within 1 week of starting the analgesic (p = 0.184). There was no statistically significant difference in any adverse events between the two arms. However, the rate of any grade of renal dysfunction was numerically higher in the diclofenac arm (10.6% versus 4.8%, p = 0.326).
Conclusion: In this phase 3 study, evaluating diclofenac and tramadol for chemoradiation induced mucositis pain, there was no statistical difference in analgesic activity of these two drugs.