Non-pharmacological interventions for breathlessness in people with cancer

Sara Booth, Chloe Chin, Anna Spathis, Matthew Maddocks, Janelle Yorke, Julie Burkin, Catherine Moffat, Morag Farquhar, Claudia Bausewein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Breathlessness is a common and distressing symptom in people with advanced cancer of all etiologies, often co-existing with cough and fatigue. Its incidence and severity increase as death approaches. Growing evidence suggests that non-pharmacological interventions, delivered as a complex intervention, can increase quality of life of those living with cancer-related breathlessness, and those closest to them. It is clear that these evidence-based treatments are not yet consistently available to patients and families, leading to significant avoidable suffering.

Breathlessness interventions may not always reduce the absolute level of the symptom. They may reduce the individual’s awareness of their breathlessness, or increase self-efficacy or knowledge of how to manage it, i.e. they have an effect on its central perception.

Areas covered: This review outlines the currently known evidence for specific non-pharmacological interventions that can ameliorate the impact of breathlessness in people with cancer. There is an indication of how they affect quality of life and other contextual factors that need to be addressed to give the best symptom control possible.

Expert commentary: Future areas for research are outlined and a reflection on the words non-pharmacological to nominate such a crucial group of interventions. The term drug-free may make these interventions more acceptable to patients and clinicians.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalExpert Review of Quality of Life in Cancer Care
Early online date3 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2018


  • breathlessness
  • cancer
  • breathing
  • thinking
  • functioning


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