Cancer may cause dyspnea. Here are some tips to manage your condition.


If you feel out of breath, you may have discomfort when breathing or experience rapid breathing. You may feel winded or have chest pressure. A number of things may cause you to have difficulty breathing. These include:

  • cancer affecting the lungs
  • accumulation of fluid in the lungs or the stomach
  • low red-blood-cell count
  • chest infections
  • weakened muscles
  • pain
  • blood clots
  • smoking
  • anxiety
  • treatments for cancer

Your doctor may explain the cause of your shortness of breath and help you find the most appropriate treatment. Your doctor may suggest to rate your dyspnea on a scale of 0 to 10, 10 being severe dyspnea. Your assessment will help your doctor understand the extent of your dyspnea at different moments. This system can be used to keep a daily log of your dyspnea. This can help him know what makes your condition worse, and therefore help manage your activities.

If you feel sad, depressed, or isolated because of your shortness of breath, talk to your doctor.


It can be very difficult to manage when we feel we are out of air. However, there are ways of managing shortness of breath, including techniques for breathing, relaxation, changes in your daily life, controlling pain, proper diet, and keeping physically active.

Certain breathing techniques may be helpful. These include using special comfortable chairs and particular standing positions when you feel short of breath. You may wish to try controlled-breathing exercises. Also known as diaphragmatic breathing, this technique uses the diaphragm and muscles located below the chest instead of the muscles of the upper chest and shoulders, making for slower and deeper breaths. It is also important to breathe gently and relax the shoulder and muscles in the upper chest when you feel short of breath.

Another method involves using a small hand-held fan to reduce your dyspnea. Some dyspnea patients use these fans to blow cool air toward the nose and mouth. Another measure that may help is to sit by an open window.


A lack of air may make some people feel anxious or cause them to have a panic attack. This can make your breathing faster and more superficial, which may worsen your feeling of shortness of breath. This creates a cycle of anxiety and difficulty breathing.

You may want to try some of the following methods to alleviate your condition:

  • slow down your breathing
  • try to keep control over your breathing
  • use a hand-held fan to blow air toward your face
  • certain drugs

Learning and practicing relaxation may help control anxiety and make it easier for you to breathe when you need to. In this section, we will show you a relaxation technique that you can easily practice at home.

Find a calm, quite place. Make sure you feel comfortable—sitting or lying down—with your shoulders, neck, and back well supported. Place your arms by your side and rest your hands on your lap. Try this technique for 5-10 minutes once a day to start, and then try to do more. Set aside a time each day to practice. It may be useful to get someone to read the instructions aloud for you.

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Exhale slowly, taking a long breath like a balloon slowly deflating. Do this once again as slowly as possible, and when you exhale, fell how all the tension in your body starts to go away. Later, try to maintain a constant rhythm in your breathing. Once you feel comfortable doing this, you can go on to the next phase.
  1. Start to think about each part of your body.
  2. Begin with your toes, checking whether they are relaxed. Let them become heavy and free of any sort of tension.
  3. Now, focus on your legs and allow your thighs to relax and point outward.
  4. Then, let the muscles in your relax and turn soft.
  5. Direct your attention to your fingers, allowing them to relax. Let this feeling of relaxation spread to your arms and your shoulders.
  6. Allow your shoulders to relax and fall.
  7. Let the muscles in your neck relax. Your head is supported and at rest. Enjoy this feeling of relaxation.
  8. Let your face relax, making sure you are not clenching your teeth, and relax your jaw.
  9. Now, as your body begins to relax, become aware of the feeling of tranquility, calm, and relaxation. Enjoy this feeling of relaxation.
  10. Gently bring your attention back to the room you are in right now. Stretch slightly and open your eyes. Remember to stand up slowly once you have finished.

One you feel comfortable doing the previous exercises, it can help to imagine you are in pleasant, calm surroundings or to listen to relaxing music.

You may want to explore other relaxation techniques. You can find relaxation CDs and tapes in your local library. Some hospitals, cancer centers, and hospices offer session on breathing and relaxation practice.


Feeling like we are out of air can affect our day-to-day activities. You may find it useful to the the following:

  • prioritize the things that you most like or most need to do
  • plan for the future
  • maintain a certain pace and take periods of rest
  • sit while performing activities of personal hygiene, getting dressed, or cooking

It is useful to be physically active, as doing so can improve your breathing and make you feel better. Remember to take things easy and practice controlled breathing.

Lack of air can affect your eating habits and make your mouth dry. It can also impact your sex life. If you are worried about these effects, talk to your doctor about ways of dealing with them.


If you are short of breath, there are treatments that can help. These may include medication, oxygen therapy, and complementary therapy. Treatments can help to:

  • relieve dyspnea
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce lung inflammation
  • widen the airways and increase air flow
  • loosen sticky mucus
  • reduce excess fluid in the lungs

Drugs can be taken in many different ways, including tablets, injections, and inhalers. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have difficulty swallowing so they can find an alternative way to administer you your treatment.

There are loads of people who can help you manage your dyspnea. Your specialist nurse can advise you on ways to cope with your condition. Physical therapists can teach you breathing techniques and show you the easiest way to perform daily activities. Also, you can get information from a dietitian on which foods are easiest to eat when you feel short of breath.