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Cardiopulmonary Syndromes (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Dyspnea and Coughing During Advanced Cancer

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It may be possible to treat the cause of dyspnea.

Treatment may include the following:

  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer.
  • Hormone therapy: Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances made by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. Some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach (receptors), drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy is used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
  • Laser therapy for tumors inside large airways: Use of a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) as a knife to remove the tumor.
  • Cauterization of tumors inside large airways: Use of a hot instrument, an electric current, or a caustic substance to destroy the tumor.
  • Procedures to remove fluid that has built up around the lungs (malignant pleural effusion), around the heart (malignant pericardial effusion), or in the abdominal cavity. (See the sections on controlling the symptoms of malignant pleural effusion and malignant pericardial effusion for more information.)
  • Stent placement: Surgery to place a stent (thin tube) in an airway to keep it open. This may be done if a large airway is blocked by a tumor that is pressing on it from the outside.
  • Medicine:
    • Steroid drugs for inflamed or swollen lymph vessels in the lungs.
    • Antibiotics for chest infections. These may be used with chest physical therapy.
    • Anticoagulants for blood clots that are blocking blood vessels in the lungs.
    • Bronchodilators that are inhaled to open up the bronchioles (small airways) in the lungs.
    • Diuretics and other drugs for heart failure.
  • Blood transfusions for anemia.

Treatment of dyspnea depends on the cause of it.

The treatment of dyspnea depends on its cause, as follows:

If the dyspnea is caused by:Then the treatment may be:
Tumor blocking the large or small airways in the chest or lungRadiation therapy.
 Hormone therapy.
 Chemotherapy, for tumors that usuallyrespondquickly to this treatment.
 Laser surgeryto remove the tumor.
 Cauterization of tumors.
  
Pleural effusionRemoval of the extra fluid around the lung using a needle or chestdrain.
  
Pericardial effusionRemoval of the extra fluid around the heart using a needle.
  
AscitesRemoval of the extra fluid in the abdominal cavity using a needle.
  
Carcinomatous lymphangitisSteroid therapy.
 Chemotherapy, for tumors that usually respond quickly to this treatment.
  
Superior vena cava syndromeChemotherapy, for tumors that usually respond quickly to this treatment.
 Radiation therapy.
 Surgery to place a stent in thesuperior vena cavato keep it open.
  
Chest infectionsAntibiotics.
 Breathing treatments.
  
Blood clotsAnticoagulants.
  
Bronchospasms or chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseBronchodilators.
 Inhaledsteroids.
  
Heart failureDiuretics and other heart medicines.
  
AnemiaBlood transfusion
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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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