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Episodic breathlessness in patients with cancer: definition, terminology, clinical features – integrative systematic review


Purpose Breatlessness flares directly impair quality of life of patients with cancer. The aim of this review was to analyse and synthesise the available information related to its terminology, definition and clinical features in patients with cancer.

Methods Integrative systematic review according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis guidelines. Literature search was conducted in MEDLINE PubMed, CINAHLPlus, Web of Science, Cochrane Central Register Controlled Trials CENTRAL, Scopus and OpenAire.

Results Data from 1065 patients with cancer included in 12 studies were analysed. The preferred term for breathlessness flares was episodic dyspnoea (ED). The reported frequency of ED was 20.4% (70.9% in patients reporting background dyspnoea (BD)). ED intensity was moderate to severe with short duration (<10 min) in >80% of patients. The most common trigger was exertion (>90%) followed by emotional or environmental factors. ED management consisted mainly of pharmacological and non-pharmacological measures.

Conclusions This systematic review shows that ED is common in patients with cancer, especially in those with BD. Further studies are urgently needed to better understand this condition and to develop specific therapeutic management.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42019126708.

  • Dyspnoea
  • Supportive care
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Clinical assessment
  • Lung

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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