- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Living with advanced cancer
- Managing symptoms
- Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath
People with advanced cancer often experience shortness of breath (breathlessness). This is also called dyspnoea.
Breathlessness can occur for different reasons, including:
- fluid surrounding the lungs
- the cancer itself
- scarring from radiation therapy
- pressure from a swollen abdomen
- anaemia (low red blood cell levels)
- underlying chronic breathing disorders, such as asthma or emphysema
- heart problems caused by chemotherapy.
Symptoms of breathlessness include difficulty catching your breath, noisy breathing or very fast, shallow breaths. Although breathlessness can make you feel distressed and anxious, there are ways to prevent or reduce its impact on your quality of life.
Treatment will depend on the cause of the breathlessness. You may need fluid around the lungs drained or medicine prescribed to treat an infection or other lung problem. If breathlessness is caused by the lungs not supplying enough oxygen to your blood, your doctor can arrange a portable oxygen cylinder.
Find out about things you can do to improve breathlessness. Ask your doctor or nurse about medicines, such as a low dose of morphine, to manage feelings of distress.
Listen to our podcast on Managing Breathlessness when Cancer Is Advanced.
Prof Nicholas Glasgow, Head, Calvary Palliative and End of Life Care Research Institute, ACT; Kathryn Bennett, Nurse Practitioner, Eastern Palliative Care Association Inc., VIC; Dr Maria Ftanou, Head, Clinical Psychology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Erin Ireland, Legal Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Nikki Johnston, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Clare Holland House, Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, ACT; Judy Margolis, Consumer; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kate Reed- Cox, Nurse Practitioner, National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Helena Rodi, Project Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kaitlyn Thorne, Coordinator Cancer Support, 13 11 20, Cancer Council Queensland.
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Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.