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Anaesthesia and Cancer, Friend or Foe? A Narrative Review

Published: December 1, 2021

Categories: Oncology Anaesthesia

Language: English


Cancer remains the leading cause of death worldwide with close to 10 million deaths reported annually. Due to growth of the advanced age cohort in our population, it is predicted that the number of new cancer cases diagnosed between now until 2035 is to reach potentially 24 million individuals, a staggering increase in a relatively short time period. For many solid tumors, surgical resection along with chemotherapy is the best available approach to a potential cure which leads to almost 80% of cancer patients undergoing at least one surgical procedure during the course of their disease. During surgical intervention, the exposure to general anesthesia can be lengthy, complex and putoften involves various modalities resulting in an important question as to the role, if any, anesthesia may play in primary recurrence or metastatic conversion. Many components of the stress and inflammatory responses exhibited in the perioperative period can contribute to cancer growth and invasion. The agents used to induce and maintain general anesthesia have variable interactions with the immune and neuroendocrine systems and can influence the stress response during surgery. Thus, debating the best type of anesthesia that would help to attenuate sympathetic and/or pro-inflammatory responses while modulating cytokine release and transcription factors/oncogenes remains at the forefront. This may affect inducible cancer cell survival and migratory abilities not only intra-operatively, but also during the immediate post-operative phase of recovery. The ultimate question becomes how and whether the choice of anesthesia may influence the outcomes of cancer surgery with two major approaches being considered, i.e., regional and general anesthesia as well as the various hypnotics, analgesics and sympatholytics commonly used. In this review, we will address the latest information as to the role that anesthesia may play during cancer surgery with specific focus on primary recurrence and metastasis.