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Our 24/7 cancer helpline provides support for people dealing with cancer. We can connect you with trained cancer information specialists who will answer questions about a cancer diagnosis and provide guidance and a compassionate ear.
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At our National Cancer Information Center trained Cancer Information Specialists can answer questions 24 hours a day, every day of the year to empower you with accurate, up-to-date information to help you make educated health decisions. We connect patients, caregivers, and family members with valuable services and resources.
Or ask us how you can get involved and support the fight against cancer. Some of the topics we can assist with include:
For medical questions, we encourage you to review our information with your doctor.
Cancer and its treatment may cause shortness of breath or a feeling of not being able to catch your breath (breathlessness). This is called dyspnea. Sometimes you can become short of breath quickly , and it can be quite frightening. Other times, it can be mild and bothersome when doing daily activities . When people have trouble breathing, the body might not be getting enough oxygen because the lungs can’t take in enough air or the body can’t get enough oxygen through the bloodstream.
For many people with advanced cancers, shortness of breath comes on over time rather than quickly. There are things that can be done to help make people with advanced cancers more comfortable.
People with cancer can have different causes of shortness of breath, such as:
Sometimes a patient may have chest discomfort or difficulty breathing but may not show obvious symptoms like exertion or rapid breaths and pulse.
Call 911 if new shortness of breath starts suddenly and doesn’t get better; if the patient's skin, mouth, or nail beds look pale or blue; or if they have chest pain or pressure trouble speaking, dizziness, or weakness.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). Palliative Care. Version 2.2019. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/palliative.pdf on September 19, 2019.
Oncology Nursing Society (ONS). Symptom interventions: Dyspnea. Accessed at https://www.ons.org/pep/dyspnea on September 19, 2019.
Stover DE, Bender MT, Pillai MV, Kaner RJ. Pulmonary toxicity. In DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer:
Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019:2109-2119 .
Machtay M, Teba CV. Pulmonary complications of anticancer treatment. In Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier;2020: 715-724.
Last Revised: February 1, 2020
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