A research centre offering training techniques to specialist cancer nurses, including how to teach new breathing techniques and administer aromatherapy massages, has opened at a leading London hospital.

The Institute of Cancer Research at the Royal Marsden hospital plans to train the 1,000 Macmillan nurses who specialise in cancer care, in the various alternative techniques. Then it will collate data on the effectiveness of different therapies.

Breathing techniques have proved one of the most effective - and cheap - therapies for lung cancer patients. This has been on trial at the hospital for the past 18 months and will form part of the training.

Dr Jessica Corner, senior Macmillan lecturer at the institute, says many patients fear they will suffocate when they have an attack of breathlessness, which can be brought on by climbing stairs or, in more advanced stages, while sitting.

'It is a horrible feeling. But that rarely happens. They would probably drift into a coma.'

The training is so nurses can 'teach them to breathe in a certain way, also helping them to face up to the stress of it all'.

Some use oxygen, but having to rely on that can be restrictive. Instead, nurses teach techniques similar to those in yoga or singing to train patients to use more of their lungs.

Most people breathe shallowly, using the top half of the lung. In cancer patients, that tendency is more exaggerated.

So far 50 patients have received breathing treatment. It has proved so successful that all lung cancer patients at the Marsden are now offered it.

Aromatherapy trials involving 52 patients have taken place over the past year. Half of them were massaged with essential oils and half without. Dr Corner said: 'All find the massage extremely beneficial and particularly good at reducing anxiety.'