Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 11, Issue 12, pp 780–784 | Cite as

Oral morphine and respiratory function amongst hospice inpatients with advanced cancer

  • T. D. WalshEmail author
  • N. I. Rivera
  • R. Kaiko
Original Article



Respiratory depression is the opioid adverse effect feared most by physicians. This may hinder adequate dosing in cancer pain. The study was conducted to examine the respiratory function of patients with advanced cancer receiving significant doses (>100 mg/24 h) of oral morphine.

Patients and methods

Consecutive pain-free hospice inpatients with advanced cancer receiving high-dose immediate-release oral morphine were evaluated. A single assessment of respiratory rate (RR), arterial blood gas (ABG), and peak flow rate (PFR) was made at assumed morphine steady state. Venous blood was drawn for a trough morphine plasma level.


Of 31 patients who consented to examination, 20 completed the study assessment; 12 had chronic bronchitis. The median morphine dose was 30 mg 4-hourly (range 20 to 90 mg). Only one patient had evidence of ventilatory impairment.


Morphine does not commonly cause chronic ventilatory impairment when given in this way in this population even in the presence of pre-existing or concurrent respiratory disease. Oral morphine given repeatedly in individualized dosage is a safe and efficacious analgesic in the majority of those with advanced cancer.


Cancer Hospice Morphine Pain Respiratory function 



The authors appreciate the assistance of Dr. P. Grabinski in the assay of plasma morphine, Dr. R. Baxter in performing the arterial blood gas analyses, Dr. M. Srivastava in reviewing the blood gas results, and Dr. C. Saunders for her advice and support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Harry R. Horvitz Center for Palliative Medicine, Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer CenterCleveland Clinic FoundationClevelandUSA
  2. 2.St. Christopher’s HospiceLondonUK
  3. 3.Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer CenterNew YorkUSA

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