4 May 2016

Adequate pain relief after breast surgery might help prevent the spread of cancer, new research shows.

Researchers from the University of Queensland suggest good pain relief is an important it boost the body’s immune system.

The researchers suggest morphine in particular might help decrease the enzymes that cancer cells secrete to help themselves spread.

“When we treated mice with morphine and then injected breast cancer cells, it was found that the mice that received morphine had a lower tumour count,” says lead author Dr David Sturgess.

Presenting his findings at an anaesthetists’ conference in Auckland, Dr Sturgess said higher doses of morphine appeared to result in a better outcome.

Dr Sturgess says the next step in the research involves taking multiple blood samples from 60 surgical patients who do not have cancer, and asking them about their sense of pain relief at 6, 12 and 24 hours after surgery.

Those blood samples will then be used on breast cancer cells in the laboratory to see what effect, if any, they have.

“The mechanisms that we are exploring involve the immune system generally. This could prove applicable to other forms of cancer as well,” he says.

The researchers note that results of previous studies about the effect of morphine have been mixed, with some finding it helped and some finding it didn’t.

Last Reviewed: 04/05/2016