Implicating anaesthesia and the perioperative period in cancer recurrence and metastasis

Julia A. Dubowitz, Erica K. Sloan, Bernhard J. Riedel

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27 Citations (Scopus)


Cancer, currently the leading cause of death in the population aged less than 85 years, poses a significant global disease burden and is anticipated to continue to increase in incidence in both developed and developing nations. A substantial proportion of cancers are amenable to surgery, with more than 60% of patients undergoing tumour resection. Up to 80% of patients will receive anaesthesia for diagnostic, therapeutic or palliative intervention. Alarmingly, retrospective studies have implicated surgical stress in disease progression that is predominantly characterised by metastatic disease—the primary cause of cancer-associated mortality. Our understanding of the mechanisms of surgical stress and impact of perioperative interventions is, however, far from complete. Accumulating evidence from preclinical studies suggests that adrenergic-inflammatory pathways may contribute to cancer progression. Importantly, these pathways are amenable to modulation by adapting surgical (e.g. minimally invasive surgery) and anaesthetic technique (e.g. general vs. neuraxial anaesthesia). Disturbingly, drugs used for general anaesthesia (e.g. inhalational vs. intravenous anaesthesia and potentially opioid analgesia) may also affect behaviour of tumour cells and immune cells, suggesting that choice of anaesthetic agent may also be linked to adverse long-term cancer outcomes. Critically, current clinical practice guidelines on the use of anaesthetic techniques, anaesthetic agents and perioperative adjuvants (e.g. anti-inflammatory drugs) during cancer surgery do not take into account their potential effect on cancer outcomes due to a lack of robust prospective data. To help address this gap, we provide an up-to-date review of current clinical evidence supporting or refuting the role of perioperative stress, anaesthetic techniques and anaesthetic agents in cancer progression and review pre-clinical studies that provide insights into biological mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-358
Number of pages12
JournalClinical and Experimental Metastasis
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


  • Cancer outcome
  • Cancer recurrence
  • Intravenous anaesthesia
  • Metastasis
  • Perioperative period
  • Volatile anaesthesia

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