Living with cancer

Breathlessness (shortness of breath/dyspnoea)

Breathlessness, or shortage of breath, is a symptom that over half of people with cancer may experience at some point whilst they are being treated for, or living with cancer. You may hear doctors refer to 'dyspnoea' which means the feeling of experiencing impaired breathing.

It can vary in degree of severity - sometimes causing palpitations and being 'puffed out' even undertaking the stairs, or trying to do normal tasks around the house.  Occasionally it can be so disabling that people find any exertion difficult, and cause feelings of panic. Ironically, feeling panicky can also cause  symptoms of breathlessness, and  so it can become a vicious cycle.

There are several possible causes for breathlessness, including anaemia, side effects of cancer treatment, chest infection, fluid on the lungs or abdomen, and occasionally heart problems. There are also some cancers which cause a shortness of breath, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, or cancer which has spread to the lung.

The main thing to be aware of is that there are many ways to manage and control the symptoms effectively. If you are experiencing shortage of breath on exertion or at rest then do mention this to your doctor/specialist nurse/medical team. We have provided links here to enable you to discover more about the management of breathlessness.