Non-pharmacological intervention for breathlessness in lung cancer

Palliat Med. 1996 Oct;10(4):299-305. doi: 10.1177/026921639601000405.


Objective: To evaluate the effect of non-pharmacological intervention for breathlessness in lung cancer on breathlessness ratings and patient functioning.

Design: Randomised controlled pilot study.

Setting: A nurse led clinic in a specialist cancer centre.

Subjects: 20 patients with advanced small cell and non-small cell lung cancer.

Intervention: Weekly sessions with a nurse research practitioner over 3-6 weeks using counselling, breathing re-training, relaxation and teaching coping and adaptation strategies.

Main outcome measures: Visual analogue scale ratings of breathlessness, distress caused by breathlessness, functional capacity, ability to perform activities of daily living and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale.

Results: Improvements in median scores on all measures were observed in the intervention group with the exception of depression, compared with the control group where median scores were static or worsened. Distress from breathlessness was improved by a median of 53%, breathlessness at worst by 35% and functional capacity by 21%. In contrast, distress in the control group worsened by a median of 10%. Significant improvements compared with the control group were observed in breathlessness at best (p < 0.02), breathlessness at worst (p < 0.05), distress caused by breathlessness (p < 0.01), functional capacity (p < 0.02) and ability to perform activities of daily living (p < 0.03) but were not observed for anxiety or depression.

Conclusion: Lung cancer patients suffering from breathlessness benefited from this rehabilitative approach to breathlessness management and strategies employed in this pilot study warrant further multicentre research. Macmillan nurses and palliative care teams are recommended to explore the potential of adopting similar approaches.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Breathing Exercises
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Dyspnea / nursing
  • Dyspnea / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / complications*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Statistics, Nonparametric