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BACKGROUND: Opioids are a mainstay in pain control for oncologic surgery. The objective of this systematic review is to evaluate the associations of perioperative opioid use with overall survival (OS) and disease-free survival (DFS) in patients with resectable head and neck cancer (HNC).

METHODS: A systematic review of PubMed, SCOPUS, and CINAHL between 2000 and 2022 was conducted following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. Studies investigating perioperative opioid use for patients with HNC undergoing surgical resection and its association with OS and DFS were included.

RESULTS: Three thousand three hundred seventy-eight studies met initial inclusion criteria, and three studies representing 562 patients (intraoperative opioids, n = 463; postoperative opioids, n = 99) met final exclusion criteria. One study identified that high intraoperative opioid requirement in oral cancer surgery was associated with decreased OS (HR = 1.77, 95% CI 0.995-3.149) but was not an independent predictor of decreased DFS. Another study found that increased intraoperative opioid requirements in treating laryngeal cancer was demonstrated to have a weak but statistically significant inverse relationship with DFS (HR = 1.001, p = 0.02) and OS (HR = 1.001, p = 0.02). The last study identified that patients with chronic opioid after resection of oral cavity cancer had decreased DFS (HR = 2.7, 95% CI 1.1-6.6) compared to those who were not chronically using opioids postoperatively.

CONCLUSION: An association may exist between perioperative opioid use and OS and DFS in patients with resectable HNC. Additional investigation is required to further delineate this relationship and promote appropriate stewardship of opioid use with adjunctive nonopioid analgesic regimens.


This article was published in Cancer Medicine, Volume 12, Issue 18.

The published version is available at

Copyright © 2023 The Authors. CC BY 4.0.

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Cancer Medicine

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