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Written on 27th June 2016 by Laura Magson

When a patient is diagnosed as suffering from mesothelioma the main purpose of treatment is to control symptoms and to improve the patient’s quality of life.

One of the main symptoms of mesothelioma is breathlessness and there are a number of ways to treat this symptom which are discussed in brief below.

Draining of pleural fluid

One major cause of mesothelioma related breathlessness is due to pleural fluid building up between the two layers of the pleura, the membranes which cover each lung.  This is known medically as a pleural effusion.

Medical professionals can assist a patient with a pleural effusion respiratory problem by surgically inserting a tube in-between the pleural membranes and then draining the pleural fluid off in to a bottle.  Many patients undergo a number of pleural fluid draining sessions so the tube can be left inserted for this purpose.

Most patients report an increase in respiratory input and output following a pleural fluid drain.

Talc pleurodesis

When removing a pleural fluid drain tube it is possible to seal the two pleural membrane layers in an attempt to stop the fluid re-forming.  This is known as talc pleurodesis.

Talc pleurodesis is performed by filling the space between the pleural membranes with sterile talcum powder (“talc”) through the drainage tube shortly before removing it.  The talc works to seal the membranes together to prevent the effusion re-forming.

Talc pleurodesis is a proven successful method in maintaining reduced breathlessness in patients.


Many patients are prescribed oxygen cylinders to take home to assist with their breathlessness.

The purpose of the oxygen cylinder is to provide a constant supply of air to the patient's lungs to assist the patient in breathing and to prevent other symptoms that can arise from breathlessness such as chest pain and feelings of drowsiness.

Personal body positions

Many palliative nurses will recommend that patients sit, lay or stand in certain positions to assist with mesothelioma related breathlessness.

Examples of different positions can be seen by placing pillows on the lower back so the patient’s body is arched forward ever so slightly when sitting.  This position prevents the patient from leaning forward and potentially limiting the movement in the lungs when breathing to assist in increased air intake.


Some patients are prescribed medicines to assist with pain relief which also assist in breathing, though this is not the main reason for the prescription.

An example of pain relief medicine assisting with breathing is seen in the prescription of morphine.  Morphine is primarily prescribed for pain relief purposes.  The relief in pain offered by morphine also has the effect of reducing a patients stress and anxiety levels which can also assist with breathing as people suffering from anxiety often report feeling more breathless.

Breathing exercises

Patients can also be trained in various breathing exercises to assist with air inhalation and exhalation.  These exercises are said to assist many patients with their breathing and with chest pain.

The above treatments can be offered to people suffering from other asbestos related diseases such as diffuse pleural thickening, asbestosis and asbestos related lung cancer, not just mesothelioma victims.

Many of the above treatments are offered by specialist asbestos nurses such as those sponsored by Mesothelioma UK, the country’s largest mesothelioma specialist charity.  Boyes Turner attend events hosted by Mesothelioma UK each year and often take part in fundraising activities to assist the specialist Mesothelioma UK sponsored nurses.