Advanced lung cancer can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as fatigue, coughing, and shortness of breath. Certain cancer treatments can also often have side effects.

Several strategies can help you cope with breathlessness, loss of appetite, fatigue, and more. You may also want to consider palliative care to manage both your symptoms and the emotional challenges of cancer.

Lung cancer may affect how you feel in various ways. Common symptoms of advanced lung cancer include:

  • extreme fatigue
  • persistent coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • low appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Side effects of advanced lung cancer treatments vary depending on the person and the type of treatment. A few common side effects include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • fatigue
  • pain and discomfort
  • hair loss
  • low iron levels (known as anemia), which can increase fatigue and shortness of breath
  • infection and bleeding, since chemotherapy can lower blood counts
  • changes in sexual functioning and fertility problems

Palliative care is also known as supportive care. This medical specialty helps you manage the symptoms and side effects of cancer. It also provides support for your loved ones.

A team of social workers will care for your physical and emotional well-being. They can help in the following ways:

  • informing you about your outlook and treatment options
  • reducing symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and sleep problems
  • relieving stress
  • identifying and addressing anxiety and depression
  • improving your quality of life

Palliative care isn’t hospice care, and it’s not only for end of life. You can receive palliative care at any stage of your cancer journey. Many people continue to have cancer treatments while receiving palliative care.

Ask your primary doctor about how palliative care might help you.

Feeling fatigued all the time can be one of the most challenging parts of advanced lung cancer. Physical, emotional, and mental fatigue can keep you from daily activities.

The cancer itself or the treatments you receive can cause fatigue. Several strategies can help you cope:

  • Accept help from others: Family and friends care about you and genuinely want to help. Ask if they can assist with meal prep, errands, or tasks around the house.
  • Prioritize your energy: It can be hard to accept that you can’t do everything you want to do. Save your energy for the most important things that bring you joy and satisfaction.
  • Plan time to rest: There may be times of the day when you tend to feel more tired. Take some time to rest and recharge when needed.
  • Ask your doctor about blood tests: Cancer and cancer treatments can affect hemoglobin levels. If these are low, doctors may order further tests to investigate potential deficiencies, such as iron, folate, or vitamin B12, and plan treatment accordingly.

Shortness of breath is a common lung cancer symptom. Treating common causes of shortness of breath and learning breathing techniques can help.

Common causes

Treating the following causes for shortness of breath can help you breathe easier:

  • Airway blockages: A tumor may partly block your airway, making it hard to bring enough air into your lungs. Medical procedures may help reduce the size of the tumor and open your airways.
  • Anemia: Anemia occurs when insufficient red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body.
  • Fluid buildup: Cancer cells sometimes spread into the area around the lungs, causing a fluid buildup that prevents the lungs from fully expanding to bring in enough air. Your doctor can remove excess fluid to help you breathe better.

Breathing techniques

The diaphragm is the muscle that controls your breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing techniques strengthen this muscle, bringing more air into your lungs using less energy. Breathing this way can manage shortness of breath and may reduce stress and anxiety.

It may be helpful to practice breathing exercises when you aren’t feeling short of breath. That way, you’ll feel more confident using them when you need them most.

You can try following these steps:

  1. Find a quiet place to sit or lie down and get comfortable.
  2. Place one hand flat on your chest and the other on your belly.
  3. As you breathe in through your nose, you should feel your belly rise as it fills with air.
  4. As you breathe out through pursed lips, your belly should fall as the air leaves.

During this process, your chest should remain as still as possible.

Loss of appetite is another common symptom of advanced cancer. Feeling sick can reduce your appetite.

Here are some ideas to help you eat when you’re not feeling hungry:

  • Eat small, frequent meals: Aim to eat something small every 2–3 hours instead of eating fewer large meals.
  • Have ready-to-eat foods available: Having meals and snacks ready to eat limits the time and energy needed for food prep.
  • Try liquid nutrition: You may find that nutritionally fortified liquids are an easier way to get nutrients than solid foods.
  • Try bland foods: Simple flavors are easier to tolerate when you feel bad. Try toast, crackers, cereal, pasta, rice, or pretzels.
  • Make mealtime enjoyable: Create a calm and pleasant atmosphere for eating. You may enjoy eating with someone else or prefer listening to music or an audiobook.

The symptoms and treatments of advanced lung cancer can take a toll on your mental health. It’s essential to care for your emotional well-being to help you cope.

You may find joining a support group is helpful. It’s an opportunity to share experiences and wisdom with others going through the same experience.

Working with a mental health professional may also be beneficial. This person can help you identify, understand, and manage difficult thoughts and feelings.

It can be challenging to manage the symptoms of advanced lung cancer and the side effects of treatments. Prioritize your emotional and physical well-being.

Ask for help. Rest when you’re tired. Save your energy for the things that matter most to you. Seek support from others. Find a palliative care team or a support group.

Caring for both your emotional and physical health can help you cope with symptoms and side effects.