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What are the Pros and Cons of Morphine for Cancer?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Among the benefits of taking morphine for cancer is the relief of pain and the comfort of the patient's family and friends who are concerned about their loved one's pain control. The negative aspects of taking morphine for cancer include various adverse side effects, such as chronic constipation. The acceleration of the growth of cancer cells and their spread throughout the body are perhaps the most serious drawbacks of morphine for cancer.

Giving morphine for cancer pain relief is relatively common in palliative care because it provides comfort for many terminally ill patients who might otherwise spend their final days in discomfort. Using this drug not only helps the patient rest, his or her family members and friends also are indirectly comforted knowing that their loved one's suffering is being controlled. Some patients hold strong convictions against taking a narcotic even for medicinal purposes, and the existence of such beliefs could be considered one of the cons of using morphine for cancer. Pain relief for the patient and some sense of comfort for his or her family and friends, however, probably are the only two pros of using morphine for cancer.

The cons of using an opiate-based drug such as morphine, in the opinion of a number of people, outweigh the pros. Administering morphine for cancer pain relief is believed to actually cause the growth of cancer to accelerate, thus hastening the patient's death. It also is seen by some people as interfering with any hope of the patient making a full recovery. Although in most cases, breathing is not impaired unless about three times the usual dosage of the drug is given, some people are convinced that using morphine for cancer pain relief significantly shortened the time that they would have had left with their loved one.

Tumors have been produced in laboratory mice and in specimens of lung cancer cells when injected with morphine. This research supports the strong suspicion in some people and the firm belief in others that opiate-based drugs such as morphine stimulate the growth of cancer cells and promotes their spread throughout the body. It also is believed that this narcotic interferes with the normal function of the body's natural defense mechanism, the immune system. If the attitude that cancer cannot be cured is to be changed, acceptance of drugs that are "cancer friendly" would also have to be diminished.

Another disadvantage of taking opiate-based drugs for cancer are the side effects, among which is chronic constipation. This serious and common adverse side effect not only interferes with the normal function of the digestive system, it could be viewed as another hindrance to any chances of the patient making a full recovery. All systems of the body need to be functioning at full capacity to ensure that a cancer patient has the very best chances of survival. When chronic constipation sets in, it is not uncommon for the patient to be prescribed more drugs to combat this side effect of morphine for cancer. For example, the drug methylnaltrexone bromide might be prescribed to help combat opiate drug-induced constipation, but taking it puts patients at risk for other side effects that are potentially life threatening.

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