Lung Cancer Care: How to Improve Quality of Life

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Currently, it is estimated that 541,000 people living in the United States have been diagnosed with lung cancer.

As a result, many people are going through lung cancer treatment or care at any one time. Compared to some other types of cancer, there is considerable research on lung cancer care and how to promote quality of life while going through this undeniably challenging process.

Read on to learn more about techniques for maintaining quality of life while going through lung cancer treatment.

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Lung Cancer Treatment

Like other types of cancer treatment, lung cancer treatment can be invasive and have side effects. However, new treatments are developed each year, and researchers are constantly working on ways to reduce side effects of current treatment methods.

Not everyone with lung cancer will undergo the same treatment. Your healthcare providers will curate a treatment plan based on your type of lung cancer and its staging, any genetic mutations present, your medical history, and your preferences.

Treatments for lung cancer can include:

  • Surgery: In early-stage non-small cell lung cancer, an operation to cut out the cancerous tissue may be appropriate. Surgeries include a lobectomy, pneumonectomy, sleeve resection, or segmental or wedge resection.
  • Radiation: High-energy rays can shrink cancerous tumors and kill lung cancer cells for both small cell and non-small cell lung cancers. Radiation itself is painless but can cause side effects. It is often used in combination with chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy: These are medicines that shrink cancer and kill cancer cells. They usually are given as an intravenous (IV) infusion but sometimes as a pill. Side effects, including hair loss, can occur but have significantly improved over the years.
  • Targeted therapy: These medicines stop cancer cells from growing but are only appropriate for non-small cell lung cancers. They often are given alongside chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy: A newer treatment in which the immune system is activated to fight cancerous cells, immunotherapy is approved to treat both small cell and non-small cell lung cancers.

How to Improve Quality of Life

The unfortunate reality is that going through lung cancer treatment is not easy. It is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. However, there are still ways to help promote your quality of life during this difficult time.

However, quality of life is subjective. It is based on your own personal values and mindset. It also means that it's possible to be in pain or grieving, and still find ways to maintain joy, positivity, and purpose.

Palliative Care

Palliative care is a branch of health care that aims to relieve symptoms and reduce suffering. It is not the same as hospice or end-of-life care; you can receive palliative care at the same time as you undergo medical treatments to eliminate your cancer.

The core goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life, which is one reason it is such an important part of lung cancer care for many people.

Interventions in palliative care include:

  • Medications to reduce pain and nausea
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Rehabilitation therapies (occupational, physical, and speech)
  • Counseling
  • Spiritual support
  • Medical procedures to treat symptoms
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Reducing caregiver burnout

Research shows that palliative care can improve quality of life, mood, and lung function among people with non-small cell lung cancer.

Further, a study of over 20,000 patients with advanced lung cancer found that early palliative care (initiated within one month to a year of lung cancer diagnosis) can significantly improve survival rates.

Support Groups

There are support groups for all types of cancer. You may find it particularly useful to join a lung cancer–specific support group, in which the members can closely relate to your experience, concerns, grief, and emotional processing.

In addition to emotional support, social connection, and catharsis, cancer support groups are also a good source of education. You may learn more about lung cancer, as well as treatments, therapies, or recommendations from others who are going through a similar experience.

Lifestyle Changes

Certain lifestyle changes may help you feel better as you undergo lung cancer treatment. While these lifestyle changes aren't going to treat the cancer itself, they can help you feel more energized, reduce side effects and pain, and generally feel calmer, happier, or more at peace.

Lifestyle changes for lung cancer include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating well-balanced, nutritious meals
  • Confiding in loved ones
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Employing energy conservation techniques
  • Using assistive devices and durable medical equipment
  • Leaning on faith, if relevant to the individual

What to Do If You Aren’t Satisfied With Your Quality of Care

Your quality of life with lung cancer can also be closely linked to the quality of care you are receiving from your healthcare team.

If you aren't satisfied with the quality of care you are receiving, remember that it is within your right to:

  • Get a second (or third or fourth) opinion
  • Change oncologists
  • Switch home care agencies
  • Ask to switch to another therapist, nurse, social worker, or healthcare provider
  • Report your side effects and request help in relieving your symptoms
  • Express concerns with the treatment plan
  • Decline procedures
  • Request to explore other treatment options

Ethically, your healthcare providers have a duty to provide patient-centered care. If that care is not meeting your standards, expectations, or preferences, then you are within your rights to file a complaint or seek better-suited care elsewhere.

Summary

Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide, as well as the most deadly form of cancer in the United States. Research shows that early palliative care can improve quality of life and mortality rates among people with advanced lung cancer.

Certain lifestyle changes, joining a support group, and advocating for yourself to your healthcare providers can also improve your quality of life and quality of care.

A Word From Verywell

Lung cancer treatment is physically taxing and often involves side effects, as well as emotional processing and grief. It's important to find ways to maintain quality of life during this challenging time. If you have questions or concerns, talk to your healthcare provider about recommended lifestyle changes, a palliative care referral, or local support group recommendations.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How does lung cancer affect quality of life?

    Lung cancer can cause painful and uncomfortable symptoms, as well as grief, worry, and fear. Treatments for lung cancer can also have side effects such as nausea, fatigue, and hair loss. All of this can affect a person's quality of life and leave them feeling less like themself.

  • How quickly does lung cancer progress?

    Lung cancer can double in size every five months on average, although in reality the exact growth rate will vary individually.

  • What is the prognosis of lung cancer?

    Unfortunately, lung cancer is one of the deadliest cancers. The five-year survival rate is only 18.6%. However, rates can differ significantly based on factors like how early the lung cancer is discovered. In early-stage, localized lung cancer, the five-year survival rate is 56%.

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.
  1. American Lung Association. Lung cancer fact sheet.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How is lung cancer diagnosed and treated?.

  3. John Hopkins Medicine. Types of lung cancer treatment.

  4. American Lung Association. Supportive (palliative) care for lung cancer.

  5. Zhuang H, Ma Y, Wang L, Zhang H. Effect of early palliative care on quality of life in patients with non-small-cell lung cancerCurrent Oncology. 2018;25(1):54-58. doi:10.3747/co.25.3639

  6. Sullivan DR, Chan B, Lapidus JA, et al. Association of early palliative care use with survival and place of death among patients with advanced lung cancer receiving care in the veterans health administrationJAMA Oncology. 2019;5(12):1702-1709. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2019.3105

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. 5 healthy habits that help you during lung cancer treatment.

  8. McDonnell K. Health behavior changes in African American family members facing lung cancer: Tensions and compromisesEuropean Journal of Oncology Nursing. 2019;38:57-64. doi:10.1016/j.ejon.2018.12.002

By Sarah Bence
Sarah Bence, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist and freelance writer. She specializes in a variety of health topics including mental health, dementia, celiac disease, and endometriosis.