Some people with cancer of unknown primary (CUP) experience shortness of breath.
Learn more about:
What causes breathlessness?
Causes of breathlessness include:
- fluid surrounding the lungs (pleural effusion)
- an infection in the lungs
- blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism)
- pressure from the cancer itself or from a swollen abdomen
- anaemia (low levels of red blood cells).
Treatment will depend on the cause. You may need fluid drained from the chest (pleural tap) or medicine for an infection or other lung problem. A low-dose opioid medicine is sometimes prescribed.
Feeling short of breath may make you feel anxious, which can make the breathlessness worse. Your doctor or a psychologist can help you find ways to manage any anxiety.
Tips to help your breathing
- Use a battery-operated handheld fan or open a window to increase airflow near your face.
- Sit up straight to ease your breathing or lean forward on a table with an arm crossed over a pillow. Try sleeping in a more upright position.
- Try relaxation or breathing techniques to see if they help. A physiotherapist or psychologist can teach you these techniques. You can also try listening to recorded meditation and relaxation exercises such as our Finding Calm During Cancer podcast.
- Ask someone else to breathe in time with you so you can focus on slowing your breath to their pace.
- Listen to our podcast below.
Podcast: Managing breathlessness
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof Chris Karapetis, Network Clinical Director (Cancer Services), Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, Head, Department of Medical Oncology, and Director, Clinical Research in Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University, SA; Dr Amey Aurangabadkar, Radiologist, Illawarra Radiology Group, NSW; Clare Brophy, Consumer; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, NSLHD Supportive and Palliative Care Network, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Wendy Cooper, Senior Staff Specialist, Tissue Pathology and Diagnostic Oncology, NSW Health Pathology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; Dr Chloe Georgiou, Oncology Research Fellow, Australian Rare Cancer Portal, and Oncology Trials Fellow, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Susan Harden, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Laura Kirsten, Principal Clinical Psychologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW; Prof Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
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Practical advice and support during and after treatment
Breathlessness in lung cancer
Learn more about pleural taps and how to improve breathlessness at home
Therapies such as massage, meditation and relaxation that can be used alongside cancer treatment
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