Background: Although corticosteroids are commonly used for symptom relief in the treatment of patients with advanced cancer, few studies have addressed nationwide physician-reported practices and attitudes toward corticosteroid therapy in palliative care settings.
Design and subjects: To clarify physician-reported practices and attitudes toward corticosteroid therapy for anorexia, fatigue, and dyspnea, a 15-item questionnaire was mailed to all 178 certified palliative care units in Japan.
Results: In total, 124 physicians returned questionnaires (response rate of 70%). The median percentage receiving corticosteroids among all terminally ill cancer inpatients was 80% (fatigue, 80%; anorexia, 80%; dyspnea, 80%). Physicians reported varying methods and attitudes regarding corticosteroid use in palliative care settings. Regarding withdrawal when patient death was imminent, 46% of respondents usually abruptly ceased corticosteroid use, while 33% reduced but did not stop administration, and 21% neither stopped nor reduced corticosteroids. As for dosage, 47% of physicians selected a minimum daily dose for fatigue <2 mg, while 51% chose 2-4 mg. As for administration period, 50% started administering corticosteroids for dyspnea regardless of the prognosis, while 30% regarded a predicted survival of less than 3 months to be an indication for corticosteroid treatment. For side effect management, 48% did not principally prescribe corticosteroids for patients with hyperactive delirium, while 44% cautiously prescribed corticosteroids.
Conclusion: The use of corticosteroids is very common in Japanese palliative care units, but physicians reported varying practices and attitudes regarding administration protocols. Future studies are needed to determine the standard treatment protocol for corticosteroid use in the terminally ill.