Treatments to help you breathe when you have lung cancer

Metastatic (advanced) lung cancer can cause problems with your breathing. Some treatments may help clear cancer that has grown into the airways or lungs. This can help you breathe more easily.

Discussing the advantages and disadvantages of treatment with your doctor is important. 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. 

Radiofrequency ablation

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a type of electrical energy.

You have RFA using one or more special needles called needle electrodes. The electrical current from the needle heats the cancer cells to high temperatures, which destroys them. The heat only travels a short distance, so it doesn’t generally affect the tissue around it.


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 blocks an airway and makes 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 breathing hard. 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.

  • Lung cancer diagnosis and management

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2019 (updated 22 September 2022)

  • Clinical presentation, diagnostic evaluation, and management of malignant central airway obstruction in adults

    UpToDate website

    Accessed March 2023

  • Bronchoscopic ablation techniques in the management of lung cancer

    R Shepherd and C Radchenko

    Annals of Translational Medicine, 2019 August. Volume 7, Issue 15, Page 362

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in.

Last reviewed: 
22 Mar 2023
Next review due: 
22 Mar 2026

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