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Benzodiazepines for cancer dyspnoea: a nationwide survey of palliative care physicians

Abstract

Objectives It is unclear whether patients with non-specific dyspnoea are suitable candidates for studies investigating the effectiveness of benzodiazepines against dyspnoea. The objective of this survey was to investigate suitable subjects for studies of benzodiazepines for cancer dyspnoea.

Methods A nationwide questionnaire survey was conducted among 536 Japanese-certified palliative care physicians. We randomly selected 268 physicians and inquired about their approach to dyspnoea management in patients with cancer, with and without anxiety, as follows: (1) Administration of a benzodiazepine. (2) Administration or titration of an opioid. We also asked them to consider their approach in the following situations: (1) Opioid-naïve. (2) Low-to-moderate baseline opioid dose. (3) High baseline opioid dose. We assessed the use of specific benzodiazepines separately.

Results Overall, 192 physicians responded to the questionnaire (71.6%). For patients without anxiety, the proportion of participants reporting that they frequently or very frequently ‘administer a benzodiazepine’ increased with baseline opioid dose (opioid-naïve: 5.2%, low-to-moderate: 11.5%, high: 26.0%). The proportion of participants reporting that they frequently or very frequently ‘administer or titrate an opioid’ decreased with baseline opioid dose (opioid-naïve: 83.3%, low-to-moderate: 73.4%, high: 41.1%). The pattern was similar for patients with anxiety, although more respondents said they prescribe benzodiazepine for these patients (naïve: 22.4%, low-to-moderate: 34.4%, high: 45.8%) and fewer prescribed an opioid. Alprazolam and lorazepam are frequently used.

Conclusion Patients with anxiety or receiving a high baseline opioid dose could be potential candidates for future studies investigating the effectiveness of benzodiazepines against cancer dyspnoea.

  • benzodiazepine
  • dyspnoea
  • cancer
  • opioid

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