Purpose of review: Breathlessness is a common symptom in patients with respiratory failure in the terminal phase of their illness. Noninvasive methods of oxygen delivery are frequently used in the palliative setting. We review the evidence supporting noninvasive respiratory supports for the relief of terminal breathlessness in those with life-limiting illnesses.
Recent findings:There is limited evidence to support the use of supplemental oxygen for patients without hypoxia. It is unclear whether the symptomatic benefit of oxygen therapy relates to the oxygen delivery and/or airflow across the nasal mucosa. Early trials suggest that high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen therapy improves breathlessness at rest and on exertion for patients with cancer. Noninvasive ventilation (NIV) also appears to improve breathlessness in the palliative setting; however, potential harms include facial pressure injuries, claustrophobia and anxiety. Goals of care should be explicitly discussed and frequently reviewed given that these interventions have the potential for harm and can be challenging to withdraw.
Summary: HFNC oxygen therapy and NIV appear to reduce breathlessness in the palliative setting. Further high-quality trials are needed to confirm the symptomatic benefits of noninvasive respiratory supports on breathlessness for patients with cancer.