Intranasal Ketamine and Its Potential Role in Cancer-Related Pain


Cancer-related pain continues to be a significant therapeutic challenge, made more difficult by contemporary opioid use and diversion concerns. Conventional treatment using a tiered approach of nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, and adjuvant agents is limited; and alternatives are needed for patients with rapidly progressing pain and those who develop hyperalgesia and tolerance to opioids. Ketamine, an N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) selective antagonist, has historically been used for anesthesia in adult and pediatric populations but has also been investigated for depression, bipolar disorder, and general and postoperative pain management. As an analgesic, low-dose ketamine decreases morphine requirements and rates of nausea and vomiting, suggesting a potentially beneficial role in cancer-related pain. Ketamine is typically administered intravenously and has a rapid onset of action with a relatively short half-life (2–3 hours) but is inconvenient for use in an ambulatory setting. Oral bioavailability is low and erratic, limiting application of this route for chronic use. Intranasal administration has a number of potential advantages, including avoidance of first-pass hepatic metabolism, no need for venous access, ability to repeat doses quickly, and rapid absorption. Although early studies of intranasal ketamine are promising in a number of indications, information is more limited in its use as an adjunct in cancer-related pain. We review the background, rationale, pharmacokinetics, and clinical and safety data using intranasal ketamine as an adjunctive agent and its potential in cancer-related pain.