SEATTLE – A longer course of dexamethasone was a bit better than the usual single intraoperative dose for controlling pain and dysphagia after transoral robotic surgery in a randomized trial from the Oregon Health and Science University, Portland.
Thirty-five subjects were randomized to the standard 10-mg intraoperative dexamethasone dose plus 8 mg every 8 hours for up to 4 days; 33 others were randomized to the intraoperative dose plus placebo. All the subjects had transoral robotic surgery (TORS) resection for T1 or T2 oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma, either partial pharyngectomy/radical tonsillectomy, base of tongue resection, or both.
The dexamethasone group had significantly less pain on postop day 3 (about 1.5 points less on the 10-point visual analogue scale) and were discharged, on average, a day earlier. They also advanced more quickly toward solid food at 1- and 3-weeks’ follow-up. “They were much more likely to be on a full-soft diet, while the placebo group was mostly still on purees, and just starting into soft foods,” said lead investigator Daniel Clayburgh, MD, a head and neck cancer specialist at the university.
Otherwise, however, the extra dexamethasone wasn’t much help; pain scores were the same in both groups for the first couple days after surgery and at follow-up, and both groups used the same amount of post-op opioids. Other than food tolerance, dysphagia metrics were pretty much the same.
“I was actually anticipating a little bit more of a benefit, but there are potentially some benefits to extended corticosteroid courses after TORS. It’s safe, and well tolerated so long as you screen out diabetes and other problems with hyperglycemia,” as was done in the study, he said. “It does decrease post-op length of stay and may provide a modest decrease in post-op pain, and may slightly accelerate advancement of dietary consistency,” Dr. Clayburgh said at the International Conference on Head and Neck Cancer, held by the American Head and Neck Society.
Although he and his colleagues are mulling over what to do with the findings in light of other initiatives to reduce post-TORS pain, they are now likely to extend dexamethasone courses when significant post-op pain seems likely, and doing so is not otherwise contraindicated, he said.
Intraoperative corticosteroids are now routine for TORS, based on the strength of benefit in the tonsillectomy literature. The team decided to try an extended course because “being rather simple minded surgeons, we thought that if one dose is good, more should be better,” Dr. Clayburgh said.
The dexamethasone group was slightly younger than the placebo group (56 vs. 61 years) but otherwise similar; most were men. In addition to patients with hyperglycemia issues, those with confounders for post-op speech and swallowing recovery were among those excluded from the trial. Subjects required nasogastric feeding tubes for a median of 6.5 days postoperatively, lost a mean of 10 pounds in the first 2 post-op weeks, and were hospitalized for a mean of about 5 days. Dexamethasone was delivered orally or by nasogastric tube.
There was no external funding for the study, and Dr. Clayburgh had no relevant financial disclosures.