Caring for Someone With Lung Cancer: What to Know

Caring for someone with lung cancer can be both difficult and gratifying. As a caregiver, you might oversee your loved one’s physical, emotional, and financial needs, which may include feeding, dressing, arranging schedules, and providing transportation. In some cases, caregiving can be a full-time job.

It’s important to remember that caregivers also need to care for themselves. You won’t be equipped to properly support your loved one if you’re burnt out. Taking time to rest is vital for a person who is always looking after the needs of someone else.

This article provides tips and recommendations for caring for someone with lung cancer.

Caring for Lung Cancer

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What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States. An estimated 236,740 new cases of lung cancer were predicted in 2022, meaning more and more people will be required to care for loved ones with lung cancer.

Most of the time, lung cancer doesn’t cause symptoms until it has spread in the body. This is why it’s such a challenging cancer to treat.

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and is responsible for up to 90% of cases.

Other risk factors include:

  • Exposure to harmful toxins, such as radon, asbestos, arsenic, nickel and chromium, or tar and soot
  • Having a family history of lung cancer
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Taking vitamin supplements containing beta-carotene
  • Having a history of radiation therapy
  • Exposure to air pollution

One particular challenge with lung cancer is the stigma that comes with the disease.

A survey conducted by the Mesothelioma Center revealed that 12% of Americans blame people with lung cancer for causing their own disease, due to factors like smoking.  This stigma can cause patients to feel guilt and shame. As a caregiver, you might have to address these unwelcome emotions.

Common Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Some of the most common early symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • Chronic cough
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Respiratory infections that don’t go away or come back

Responsibilities of Caring for Someone With Lung Cancer

Caregiving duties may vary, depending on the needs of your loved one. The amount of care the patient requires hinges on how advanced their cancer is, what types of treatments they receive, and their overall health.

Medical Care

As a caregiver for someone with lung cancer, you may be responsible for helping with basic medical care. This might include:

  • Tracking and giving your loved one their medications
  • Scheduling medical appointments
  • Providing transportation to and from their healthcare provider's office
  • Taking notes at the visits
  • Picking up prescriptions at the pharmacy

Practical Care

People with lung cancer may require practical help with everyday tasks. You might assist with:

  • Cleaning or other housework
  • Grocery shopping
  • Preparing meals
  • Help with dressing

Additionally, caregivers often help loved ones settle financial, legal, and insurance issues.

Emotional Care or Other Responsibilities

Dealing with a lung cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and scary. Your loved one might struggle with feelings of sadness, anger, or loneliness. Caregivers can provide emotional support and encouragement for people living with lung cancer.

What to Avoid as a Caregiver for Lung Cancer

While you may have good intentions, there are some situations to avoid if you’re caring for someone with lung cancer.

  • Never adjust your loved one’s medication dosages without first talking to their healthcare provider.
  • Don't ignore signs of depression in the lung cancer patient. If you notice your loved one is frequently feeling down, help them seek professional guidance.
  • Try not to give your loved one false hope about their prognosis. It’s best to be honest but positive.

Don’t overlook your needs either. Caregiver burnout is a real problem. Make sure you have a solid support system.

Common Signs of Caregiving Burnout

Verywell / Cindy Chung

How to Talk to a Loved One About Lung Cancer

Talking to your loved one about their cancer prognosis can be difficult. Many times, the most important action you can take is to just listen. Let them tell you how they feel without offering any judgment. However, if they don’t want to talk about it, respect their wishes.

When discussing a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, be sensitive to their feelings, but also be open and honest. Remember, you are both going through a tough time, so give yourself some grace as well.

You might want to be particularly careful when talking about smoking or how smoking contributed to your loved one's cancer. Lung cancer patients may already live with feelings of guilt or regret, and you don't want to make those negative thoughts worse.

When to Intervene

If your loved one’s cancer progresses and their health deteriorates, you may not be able to meet all of their physical and medical needs as a caregiver.

Depending on the situation, hospice centers or nursing homes can provide quality care for many lung cancer patients with advanced disease. Your loved one’s oncologist might be able to offer recommendations for services near you.

If your loved one shows signs of severe anxiety or depression, you may also need to contact their healthcare provider. Some symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Constant feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • A loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Thoughts about death or suicide
  • Severe mood swings
  • Extreme lack of energy

Caregivers and Mental Health

Studies show 40%–70% of caregivers experience symptoms of depression, about 25%–50% of them meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression.

Tips for Yourself as a Caregiver

Taking care of yourself is especially important if you are also taking care of someone else. Caregivers should set limits and stick to them.

Here are some ways to manage stress:

  • Take time for yourself: Don’t give up activities that you enjoy. Schedule time for your favorite hobbies.
  • Make your health a priority: Keep up with your own healthcare provider appointments and practice a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you get plenty of sleep, exercise daily, and eat a healthy diet.
  • Join a support group: These groups allow you to connect with other caregivers who are going through a similar situation. Support groups meet online or in-person.

Summary

Though every case is different, people with lung cancer often need the assistance of a caregiver to help them with physical, emotional, and financial matters. As a caregiver, you might have to perform practical tasks, like driving your loved one to their appointments or ensuring they take their medication. You may also be required to provide much-needed emotional support.

Caregiving is an important job, but it can sometimes be stressful. Burnout is very possible. Caregivers are most successful when they take care of their own needs as well as the needs of their loved one.

A Word From Verywell

Though caring for someone with lung cancer can be fulfilling, it can also be exhausting. It’s important to know that while you aren’t the patient, you’ll likely deal with feelings of sadness and grief. It’s difficult to watch someone you love cope with a cancer diagnosis. Remember to take breaks when you need to and be kind to yourself.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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