Dyspnea is a subjective experience of difficult breathing or sensation of breathlessness that can occur rapidly and lead to a feeling of impending doom. Dyspnea can be common in patients with primary or metastatic lung or pleural involvement; however, patients with cancer without direct involvement of these areas also report it. Prevalence of dyspnea has been reported to be highest in patients with lung, breast, and esophageal cancer. Dyspnea has been estimated to occur in 15%–55% of patients at the time of cancer diagnosis and as many as 70% of patients with terminal cancer. Dyspnea in patients with cancer may be caused by the cancer directly or cancer treatment, or it may be unrelated to the cancer or associated with other underlying medical conditions.

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This topic was updated on January 5, 2016.

2011–2016 Authors

Brenda K. Shelton, DNP, RN, CCRN, AOCN®, Margaret M. Joyce, PhD, RN, ANP-BC, and Angela Adames, BSN, RN, OCN®, Halim F. Dagher, BSN, RN, OCN®, Elisabeth Dolan, RN, MSN, NP- C, ACHPN, OCN®, Peter Miller, BSN, PHN, Lauren Oliveira, RN, BSN, Kerstin Scheper RN-BC, OCN®, CHPN, and Patty Starr, NP-BC

ONS Staff: Lee Ann Johnson, PhD, RN, Margaret M. Irwin, PhD, RN, MN, Christine M. Maloney, BA, Kerri A. Moriarty, MLS, and Mark Vrabel, MLS, AHIP, ELS


2009 Authors

Wendye M. DiSalvo, MSN, ARNP, AOCN® and Margaret M. Joyce, PhD(c), RN, MSN, AOCN®

ONS Staff: Heather Belansky, RN, MSN


2007 Authors

Wendye M. DiSalvo, RN, ARNP, MS, AOCN®, Margaret M. Joyce, PhD(c), RN, AOCN®, Ann E. Culkin, RN, OCN®, Leslie B. Tyson, MS, APRN-BC, OCN®, and Kathleen Mackay, RN, BSN, OCN®

ONS Staff: Barbara G. Lubejko, MS, RN