Individual experiences and impacts of a physiotherapist-led, non-pharmacological breathlessness programme for patients with intrathoracic malignancy: a qualitative study

Palliat Med. 2013 Jun;27(6):499-507. doi: 10.1177/0269216312464093. Epub 2012 Nov 5.


Background: Non-pharmacological breathlessness management programmes have been shown to be beneficial in the management of lung cancer-related dyspnoea for more than 10 years. What is not so clear is how they work.

Aim: To evaluate how patients with intrathoracic malignancy (lung cancer or pleural mesothelioma) undergoing the non-pharmacological breathlessness management programmes benefited from the programme, using a qualitative methodology.

Design and setting: Consecutive patients completing the programme were invited to be interviewed (semi-structured and audio-recorded) about their experiences of the programme, what had helped them and how. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Results: Nine patients were interviewed. Seven major themes emerged, they are summarised as follows: (1) Mixed prior expectations of the programme, (2) flexibility of delivery and additional support needs, (3) physiotherapist attributes and skills in developing an effective helping relationship, (4) adoption of new techniques, (5) the effects and impact of the programme and new techniques, (6) difficulties and barriers to achieving change and (7) facing an uncertain future beyond the programme.

Conclusion: The non-pharmacological breathlessness management programme appears to offer a wide range of benefits to patients, including improving functional capacity, coping strategies and self-control. Such benefits are most likely to be due to a combination of breathing control, activity management and the therapist qualities.

Keywords: Intrathoracic malignancy; breathlessness; non-pharmacological; physiotherapist; qualitative.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Dyspnea / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / complications*
  • Male
  • Mesothelioma / complications*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physical Therapy Modalities* / standards
  • Pleural Neoplasms / complications*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Program Evaluation
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires