Advice for Cancer Patients on Improving Their Breathing

Woman Practicing Respiratory Therapy

One of the most common symptoms of mesothelioma is difficulty breathing, which is why patients often like to participate in respiratory therapies. There are specific breathing techniques that can improve lung function and make it easier for someone combating a lung condition to breathe.

Not only can the techniques teach mesothelioma patients to breathe more efficiently and provide a boost in energy levels, but they also can alleviate some of the symptoms, such as coughing and chest pain.

Pleural mesothelioma, which accounts for about 75 percent of the cases of mesothelioma, develops on the lining of the lungs. As tumors grow and cause inflammation, the lungs have less room to expand and patients can feel their breathing being restricted. Pulmonary rehabilitation, a broad program that improves the well-being of people with breathing problems, can help with the physical and emotional stress a patient can experience after contracting the disease.

Implementing a combination of pulmonary rehabilitation and breathing techniques into a treatment plan can be one of the best choices a mesothelioma patient can make. It is often recommended by doctors following any pulmonary-related diagnosis. While some mesothelioma patients may have a hard time implementing certain breathing techniques, the psychological aspects of participating in a pulmonary rehabilitation program can still be beneficial.

Breathing Techniques

Some breathing techniques can help control respiratory rate and manage breathing patterns. Others help open airways so breathing becomes more comfortable.
If a patient says not enough air is getting into the lungs, consider some of the following exercises:

  • Pursed-Lip Breathing: This technique slows down breathing and makes it feel as if more air is getting into the lungs during each breath. Breathe in through the nose and hold your breath for a few seconds. With your lips partially open, breathe out slowly until most of the air is released.
  • Abdominal/Diaphragmatic Breathing: This breathing exercise helps relax the body and slow down breathing. Start by lying on your back in a comfortable position. Rest one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Concentrate on breathing through your nose using your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach will rise when you breathe in and fall as you exhale. Keep the hand on your chest still while breathing.
  • Active Cycle of Breathing Technique (ACBT): ACBT helps release secretions and increases the amount of air that reaches the lungs. This technique involves the “huff” cough – taking a deep breath and exhaling it forcefully. The cycle is repeated until secretions come out. Eventually, the cough will become dry.

With continued use of breathing techniques, patients can rehabilitate some lung function. Mesothelioma patients in particular can benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a multimodal treatment approach that involves various ongoing therapies to address each patient’s unique set of symptoms and challenges. Patients can improve their outlook with counseling, correct nutritional deficiencies with a nutritionist, increase exercise performance through training and conserve energy.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is one of the best treatment options for patients battling a chronic respiratory illness like mesothelioma or asbestosis. An interdisciplinary team of specialists often recommends a range of therapies and treatments based on the needs of the patient. Therapies can include breathing techniques, exercise and educating the patient on ways to conserve energy.

Pulmonary rehabilitation is designed to help patients return to an active lifestyle and reduce symptoms.

In addition to these goals, the treatment is meant to:

  • Make breathing easier.
  • Create a positive outlook.
  • Correct nutritional deficiencies.
  • Increase exercise performance.
  • Teach you how to use energy efficiently.
  • Improve survival and reduce health costs.
  • Provide emotional support.
  • Reduce hospital visits.

Because there is no definite cure for mesothelioma, improving the quality of a patient’s life is a central part of treatment. Pulmonary rehabilitation most often involves educating patients and families about exercise training and outcome assessment to monitor the results. Talk to your doctor to see if pulmonary rehabilitation is an option for you.

  1. ATSDR. (2008, April 1). Living with Asbestos: Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/living_asbestos/index.html
  2. Sharma, S. & Arneja, A. (2010, April 22). Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Retrieved from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/319885-overview
  3. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2010, August 1). What is Pulmonary Rehabilitation? Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pulreh/
  4. Florida Hospital. (n.d.). Pulmonary Function Testing. Retrieved from https://www.floridahospital.com/thoracic-pulmonary/pulmonary-functions
  5. Hodgkin, J. et al. (2002). AARC Clinical Practice Guideline: Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Retrieved from http://www.rcjournal.com/cpgs/prcpg.html

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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