The role of corticosteroids in the palliation of dyspnea in cancer patients: an evidence-based review

Curr Opin Support Palliat Care. 2023 Dec 1;17(4):270-276. doi: 10.1097/SPC.0000000000000677. Epub 2023 Sep 29.


Purpose of review: To provide an evidence-based review on the use of corticosteroids for dyspnea in cancer patients.

Recent findings: Corticosteroids are commonly used for palliation of dyspnea; however, there is wide variation in how they are prescribed due to the paucity of high-quality evidence. Some clinicians would offer corticosteroids routinely regardless of the causes of dyspnea, while others would only prescribe corticosteroids selectively for specific indications, such as lymphangitic carcinomatosis, upper airway obstruction, superior vena cava obstruction, and cancer treatment-induced pneumonitis. Few mechanistic studies have been conducted to support the use of corticosteroids in cancer patients. Two double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trials have examined the routine use of high-dose dexamethasone for dyspnea in cancer patients. A pilot study suggested some benefits, but the larger confirmatory trial revealed no improvement compared to the placebo and significantly more adverse events. The selective use of corticosteroids use is only based on observational studies such as case series.

Summary: The unfavorable risk:benefit ratio of high-dose dexamethasone suggests that it should not be routinely prescribed for dyspnea in cancer patients. More research is needed to assess the selective use of corticosteroids and identify patients most likely be benefit from corticosteroid use.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects
  • Dexamethasone* / therapeutic use
  • Dyspnea / drug therapy
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / complications
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Pilot Projects
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Vena Cava, Superior


  • Dexamethasone
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones