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Supportive care helps people meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of lung cancer. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet the needs and improve the quality of life of people living with cancer and their loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.
Recovering from lung cancer and adjusting to life after treatment is different for each person, depending on the extent of the disease, the type of treatment and many other factors. The end of cancer treatment may bring mixed emotions. Even though treatment has ended, there may be other issues to deal with, such as coping with long-term side effects.
A person who has been treated for lung cancer may have the following concerns. Some symptoms, such as cough, difficulty breathing, pain and fatigue, are often seen together in people with lung cancer, especially in advanced disease.
Coughing is one of the most common concerns for people with lung cancer. Coughing may be one of the first symptoms of lung cancer, but it may also be a concern during all stages of the disease. The cough may be dry and hacking or wet and productive (coughing up sputum). Sometimes the sputum may contain blood from the lungs (hemoptysis).
Coughing may be caused by:
Treatment for cough will depend on the underlying cause. Treatment options may include:
Report a new cough or any changes to an existing cough to the healthcare team.
Many people with lung cancer have difficulty breathing (dyspnea) and shortness of breath. This can be a very distressing symptom, which can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. It can affect work, walking and physical activity, sleeping and general activities.
Breathing difficulties in people with lung cancer can be caused by:
Treatment for difficulty breathing and shortness of breath will depend on the cause(s) and may include:
Many people with lung cancer experience fatigue. Fatigue may be caused by the cancer and can be made worse by coughing, difficulty breathing or poor appetite. It can be hard to cope when you feel very tired and don’t have a lot of energy, especially for a while after treatment or if the cancer is advanced.
Many people with lung cancer have advanced disease when they are diagnosed. As the cancer progresses, people can lose their appetite. If people don’t eat properly, their nutritional intake can be poor and they may lose weight.
Trying small amounts of high-calorie foods or fluids, having smaller, more frequent meals and nutritional supplements can be helpful. Anti-nausea drugs can be used to control nausea and vomiting. Eating cold foods and using plastic cutlery can help if the person experiences smell or taste changes with food. When appropriate, the doctor may order medicines to help increase appetite.
Cachexia (severe loss of body weight and muscle mass) can occur in people whose lung cancer is very advanced.
Pain is very common in people with lung cancer. It may become worse as the cancer advances.
Pain may be treated by:
Pleural effusion is a build up of fluid in the space between the outside covering of the lung and the inside lining of the chest wall (pleura). Lung cancer often causes pleural effusion. Treatment options for pleural effusion may include:
Superior vena cava syndrome is a group of symptoms caused when the superior vena cava becomes partially blocked. The superior vena cava is the main vein that carries blood from the upper body (head, neck, chest and arms) to the heart. Advanced lung cancer can cause superior vena cava syndrome. Treatment for superior vena cava syndrome may include:
Lung cancer is often diagnosed at quite an advanced stage. People with advanced lung cancer are offered palliative care. This is a special type of care that focuses on making the person as comfortable as possible, relieving symptoms, providing support and improving or maintaining the person’s quality of life.
The Canadian Cancer Society’s Community Services Locator helps cancer patients and their families find the services and programs they need in their community.