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Dyspnea (Shortness of Breath) in Mesothelioma Patients

Legally Reviewed by Joseph P. Williams on March 24, 2022

Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, is a common symptom associated with pleural mesothelioma. This is cancer of the membrane that lines the lungs, caused by exposure to asbestos. Pleural mesothelioma can cause a buildup of fluid around the lungs, as well as pain, reduced blood circulation and a loss of lung volume that can all contribute to breathlessness. Learn more about shortness of breath associated with mesothelioma, as well as treatment options.

Why Does Mesothelioma Cause Shortness of Breath?

It is normal to experience dyspnea with pleural mesothelioma. Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms associated with this disease, as it affects the lungs and chest cavity. Malignant pleural mesothelioma can result in dyspnea in many different ways. First, it can cause pain that leads to shallow or labored breathing. A tumor growing in the lining that surrounds the lungs can cause pain in a way that is often not experienced with lung cancer.

Second, pleural mesothelioma can cause pleural effusion, or excess fluid building up in and around the lungs. Pleural effusion can place pressure on the lungs so that they do not properly expand. This can result in trouble breathing, feelings of suffocation, tightness in the chest and the inability to take deep breaths. Third, the presence of mesothelioma tumors in the lungs or other organs can restrict the normal movement of their tissues. This can limit lung volume and contribute to shortness of breath.

Can You Get Relief From Mesothelioma-Related Dyspnea?

Shortness of breath can be distressing and difficult to live with as a patient with mesothelioma. It can prevent you from enjoying daily activities or engaging in some of your favorite hobbies. Fortunately, solutions are available to help you breathe easier if you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma and are experiencing dyspnea. Take the following steps:

  • Check with your doctor. Discuss your shortness of breath with a mesothelioma specialist to learn more about it and determine if there is an available treatment that is right for you. The options available can depend on your specific type of mesothelioma and individual diagnosis.
  • Rule out an infection. In some cases, dyspnea in a mesothelioma patient is caused by an infection, such as pneumonia. If you experience sudden breathlessness, pain when you breathe, a fever or a worsening of your breathing symptoms, see your doctor to check for and treat an infection.
  • Consider palliative care. Although there is no known cure for pleural mesothelioma, palliative care can improve your quality of life. This includes treatments for breathlessness, such as talc pleurodesis or a pleural tap. These treatments can prevent or address pleural effusion to relieve pressure from the lungs and ease breathing.
  • Use available tools and devices. In addition to medical treatments for dyspnea, you may also find relief from breathlessness using available tools. One inexpensive solution is using a fan, which researchers have found can help reduce feelings of breathlessness when pointed toward the face. Another option is an incentive spirometer – a handheld device that can provide breathing exercises and improve shortness of breath.
  • Change your diet or lifestyle. There may be some things that you can change in your personal life to ease your breathing as a mesothelioma patient. This can include engaging in gentle exercises and stretches to improve your breathing, avoiding anxiety and stress, changing your eating habits to avoid becoming overly full, and using pillows to prop yourself up while you sleep.

Dyspnea related to mesothelioma can have a significant impact on your quality of life. However, treatments and remedies for breathlessness are available. You may be able to reduce chest pain, shortness of breath and other breath-related symptoms associated with pleural mesothelioma using a personalized treatment regime. Discuss your specific case with a mesothelioma specialist for more information.

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