Neurolytic splanchnic nerve block is used to manage pancreatic cancer pain. However, its impact on survival and quality of life remains controversial. The authors’ primary hypothesis was that pain relief would be better with a nerve block. Secondarily, they hypothesized that analgesic use, survival, and quality of life might be affected.


This randomized, double-blind, parallel-armed trial was conducted in five Chinese centers. Eligible patients suffering from moderate to severe pain conditions were randomly assigned to receive splanchnic nerve block with either absolute alcohol (neurolysis) or normal saline (control). The primary outcome was pain relief measured on a visual analogue scale. Opioid consumption, survival, quality of life, and adverse effects were also documented. Analgesics were managed using a protocol common to all centers. Patients were followed up for 8 months or until death.


Ninety-six patients (48 for each group) were included in the analysis. Pain relief with neurolysis was greater for the first 3 months (largest at the first month; mean difference, 0.7 [95% CI, 0.3 to 1.0]; adjusted P < 0.001) compared with placebo injection. Opioid consumption with neurolysis was lower for the first 5 months (largest at the first month; mean difference, 95.8 [95% CI, 67.4 to 124.1]; adjusted P < 0.001) compared with placebo injection. There was a significant difference in survival (hazard ratio, 1.56 [95% CI, 1.03 to 2.35]; P = 0.036) between groups. A significant reduction in survival in neurolysis was found for stage IV patients (hazard ratio, 1.94 [95% CI, 1.29 to 2.93]; P = 0.001), but not for stage III patients (hazard ratio, 1.08 [95% CI, 0.59 to 1.97]; P = 0.809). No differences in quality of life were observed.


Neurolytic splanchnic nerve block appears to be an effective option for controlling pain and reducing opioid requirements in patients with unresectable pancreatic cancer.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Pain arising from pancreatic cancer can be severe and strongly impact quality of life.
  • Both opioids and neurolytic blocks are used to control pain from pancreatic cancer, but few studies have directly compared these approaches.
What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • A multicenter study was designed in which patients with unresectable pancreatic cancer and moderate to severe pain were randomized to lytic splanchnic nerve block or block using saline. All patients received opioids according to a set protocol.
  • Pain relief was superior for those receiving lytic blocks for 3 months, and opioid use was lower for 5 months. Quality of life was not affected, however.