Breakthrough pain in patients referred to pain clinics: The Italian pain network retrospective study

Antonio Gatti, Rocco D. Mediati, Carlo Reale, Arturo Cuomo, Renato Vellucci, Gennaro Russo, Amedeo Costantini, Alessandra Canneti, Marta Luzi, Massimo Mammucari, Alessandro Fabrizio Sabato

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Despite breakthrough pain (BTP) being one of the most severe forms of pain, there are no definitive data on its prevalence. Methods: The authors performed a retrospective survey of the prevalence of BTP in consecutive patients in four Italian pain clinics, subsequent to application of an Italian law mandating detailed clinical records on pain characteristics, treatment, and results. Mean pain intensity was assessed with a numerical rating scale from 0 to 10. Results: The authors analyzed records of 1,401 patients (58% women, 33.1% patients with cancer). Transient episodes of severe pain or BTP were referred by 790 patients (56.4%), including 58.2% of the men (342 of 588) and 55.1% of the women (448 of 813). Among the 464 patients with cancer, 70.3% reported daily exacerbation of pain. The mean BTP intensity was 8.31 ± 1.58 and 31.1% of patients reported experiencing three episodes per day. Conclusion: Despite some limitations of the study, the authors show that transient episodes of severe pain or BTP are significantly present both in cancer and other diseases, and that many patients are not yet receiving appropriate opioid therapy. The authors need validated tools at international level for the diagnosis and treatment of BTP in patients with cancer and for transitory and patients with severe non-cancer pain. A survey at national level is needed to estimate the prevalence of BTP in different settings, to plan specific medical education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)464-472
Number of pages9
JournalAdvances in Therapy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2012


  • Breakthrough pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Non-cancer pain
  • Opioid therapy
  • Pain assessment
  • Pain exacerbation
  • Pain intensity
  • Pain predictability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Medicine(all)


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