Hately, J., Laurence, V., Scott, A., Baker, R., & Thomas, P. (2003). Breathlessness clinics within specialist palliative care settings can improve the quality of life and functional capacity of patients with lung cancer. Palliative Medicine, 17(5), 410–417.doi: 10.1191/0269216303pm752oa
Potential patients were referred to a highly experienced palliative care physiotherapist clinic. Patients were seen by the physiotherapist at three sessions, each lasting as long as 90 minutes. Intervention consisted of breathing retraining, simple relaxation techniques, activity pacing, and psychosocial support.
The study reported on a sample of 30 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, small cell lung cancer, or mesothelioma (pleural effusion excluded) who experienced breathlessness not less than one month after completion of any active treatment; 68 patients were referred, 17 did not fulfill the criteria, 4 declined, and 2 were too ill to treat. Forty-five entered the study, and 15 deteriorated or died before completion. The median age was 71 years; 24 were men, and 6 were women.
The study was conducted in an outpatient clinic in the United Kingdom.
Tools completed by the therapist at each visit
Self-assessment tools completed by patients at baseline and following the intervention (four to six weeks)
Statistical analysis of baseline data on 12 patients who were unable to complete the study compared to 30 patients who completed the study showed significantly lower Functional Capacity Scale scores (p = 0.04) at first assessment. For patients who completed the study, a highly significant (p < 0.001) change in frequency of reported breathlessness was found. A decrease existed in reported breathlessness, from 97% reporting it at least once or twice a day, 73% several times a day, and 27% most of the time to 27% experiencing dyspnea several times a day and 3% most of the time at the final visit. A statistically significant change was seen between study entry and completion (p < 0.001) in functional capacity. Overall, 19 improved function, 9 remained stable, and 2 deteriorated.
No change in sputum production was found.
Rotterdam symptom checklist:
Significant changes were seen in the physical distress scores and activity levels (no p value given). Change in psychological distress scores were borderline.
Degree of breathlessness:
Significant improvement (p < 0.001) was found in all three parameters—breathing at best, breathing at worst, and distress caused by breathlessness.
On study entry, patients were asked to score 20 strategies that were likely to improve feelings of breathlessness. Examples of interventions include activity pacing, abdominal breathing, slowing down, relaxation exercises, not worrying, accepting the situation, and positive thinking.
Patients reported that all of the techniques they learned were helpful and improved breathlessness. Patients reported that massage and the use of bronchodilator drugs were not helpful.
Quality of life:
Significant improvements were seen in decrease in time spent lying down (p = 0.02), improved bodily strength (p = 0.03), and increase in things that made patients happy (p = 0.04). Patients reported an increased ability to do things and improved quality of life.
The following themes were extracted from the narrative data: difficulty adjusting, issues around death, effects of treatments, and therapies’ impact on daily life.
The study was uncontrolled. A major limitation of the study is that it is a nonrandomized trial of referred patients. Impossible to know are the implied bias in patients who were referred or the true effect of the intervention without a control group. It was based on a prior study, with the time period shortened because of the loss of patients in the earlier study’s sample.