Loss of Chest Wall Mobility
Loss of chest wall mobility occurs when mesothelioma attaches itself to chest wall structures which makes them less flexible, this reduces the chest movements required in breathing. Similarly, extensive thickening and rigidity of the pleura may cause the lung to become fixed or trapped. Although there are no ways of resolving these problems with medication or surgery, patients may be helped by learning to control and pace their breathing as described later in the Self-help Techniques Section.
Loss of Lung Volume
Loss of lung volume occurs when mesothelioma affecting the pleura grows into lung tissue thus reducing the ability of the lung to perform its vital function, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Surgical removal of the tumour that affects the lung – a ‘debulking procedure’ might be an option and this may reduce breathlessness. In most cases patients may benefit from self-help techniques (please see Self-help Techniques Section).
Pericardial effusion is an accumulation of fluid in the membrane containing the heart – the ‘pericardial sac’. This may also cause breathlessness and is sometimes seen on chest x-ray or diagnosed by ultrasound scan or CT scan. This can be drained, usually in a cardiology unit.
Other Conditions That Cause Breathlessness
It is important that pre-existing conditions, such as asthma or chronic bronchitis (often called COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or heart conditions, are not forgotten when mesothelioma is diagnosed. It is necessary to continue with medications already prescribed for these conditions unless advised otherwise. Anaemia can also cause breathlessness and can be diagnosed by a blood test. This list is not exhaustive but mentions the most common conditions affecting breathing.