Treatments to help you breathe

Advanced lung cancer can cause problems with your breathing. There are some treatments that may be able to help clear cancer cells from the airways or lung to help you breathe more easily.

It's important to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of treatment with your doctor. This helps you make the right decision for you.


Cryotherapy is a way of killing cancer cells by freezing them. It is also called cryosurgery or cryoablation.

Cryotherapy can shrink a tumour that is blocking an airway. This can relieve breathlessness and other symptoms such as a cough, coughing up blood or a chest infection in the blocked part of the lung. 

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy is also called PDT or light activating treatment. It kills cancer cells by using a combination of a light sensitising drug and a very bright light.

This treatment can shrink a tumour that is blocking an airway. It can relieve breathlessness and other problems, such as a cough or coughing up blood.

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) uses heat made by radio waves to treat cancer.

Radiofrequency is a type of electrical energy. The electrical energy heats up the tumour and kills the cancer cells. Your doctor might recommend this treatment if your cancer is blocking your airway and making it hard to breathe. 


Diathermy treatment uses an electrical current to destroy cancer cells. It is also called electrocautery or thermocautery.

You might have diathermy treatment if your cancer is blocking an airway and making it difficult for you to breathe. The treatment helps you to breathe more easily afterwards.

Laser therapy

Laser therapy uses a focused beam of light to destroy cancer cells. You might have this treatment if your lung cancer is blocking an airway and making you breathless. 

Microwave ablation

Microwave ablation uses high frequency microwave energy to kill cancer cells. It is a treatment for some large lung cancers. It can destroy a tumour that is blocking the airway. This helps you to breathe more easily.

Tube to keep the airway open (stent)

If your airway is partly blocked by a lung cancer it can make it hard to breathe. Your doctor might suggest that you have a tube called a stent put into the airway to keep it open. This can help you to breathe more easily.

Last reviewed: 
18 Dec 2019
  • Metastatic non-small cell lung cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up

    D. Planchard and others

    Annals of Oncology, 2018, 29 (4)192-237.

  • Lung cancer diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), updated 2019

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