Late-stage lung cancer can cause uncomfortable symptoms. Cancer treatments also often have side effects.
A number of strategies can help you to 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 late-stage lung cancer include:
- extreme fatigue
- persistent coughing
- shortness of breath
- low appetite
Side effects of late-stage lung cancer treatments vary depending on the person and the type of treatment. A few common side effects include:
- 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 to manage the symptoms and side effects of cancer. It also provides support for your loved ones.
Ask your primary doctor about how palliative care might help you. A team of social workers will care for your physical and emotional well-being. They can help to:
- inform you about your prognosis and treatment options
- relieve stress
- reduce symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and sleep problems
- identify and address anxiety and depression
- improve 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.
Feeling fatigued all the time can be one of the most challenging parts of late-stage lung cancer. Physical, emotional, and mental fatigue can keep you from your daily activities.
The cancer itself or the treatments you receive can cause fatigue. A number of strategies can help you to 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 things that feel the most important and give you the most joy and satisfaction.
- Plan time to rest. There may be times of the day that you tend to feel more tired. Take some time to rest and recharge when needed.
- Ask your doctor about checking your iron levels. Cancer treatments may decrease blood iron levels, which can worsen fatigue. Your doctor can you help manage iron deficiency with supplements or iron infusions.
Shortness of breath is a common lung cancer symptom. Treating common causes for shortness of breath and learning breathing techniques can help.
Treating the following causes for shortness of breath can help you to breathe easier:
- Tumor location. A tumor may be partly blocking your airway, making it hard to bring enough air into your lungs. Medical procedures may help reduce the size of the tumor to open your airways.
- Iron deficiency anemia. Anemia occurs when there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Low red blood cell counts can be treated with iron supplements or infusions.
- Fluid buildup. Cancer cells sometimes invade the area around the lungs, causing fluid build-up that prevents lungs from fully expanding to bring in enough air. Your doctor can remove excess fluid to help you breathe better.
The diaphragm is the muscle that controls your breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is a breathing technique that strengthens this muscle so it can bring more air into your lungs using less energy. Breathing this way can manage shortness of breath and may reduce stress and anxiety.
For the best results, try diaphragmatic breathing with pursed lip breathing. Pursed lip breathing is breathing out through pursed lips, like you’re gently blowing out a candle. Breathing this way helps to conserve energy.
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. Follow these steps:
- Find a quiet place to sit or lie down and get comfortable.
- Place one hand flat on your chest and the other on your belly.
- As you breathe in through your nose, you should feel your belly rise as it fills with air.
- 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 late-stage lung cancer. Feeling sick can reduce your appetite.
Here are some ideas to help you to eat when you’re not feeling hungry:
- Eat small, frequent meals. Aim to eat something small every 2 to 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 you’ll need for food prep. Keep single-serve leftover portions and healthy snacks like muffins, yogurt, pre-cut fruit, cheese, crackers, and trail mix in your kitchen.
- Try liquid nutrition. You may find that liquids are an easier way to get nutrients than solid foods. Sip on nutritional supplement drinks, or make a homemade shake or smoothie.
- Try bland foods. Simple flavors tend to be easier to tolerate when you don’t feel well. 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 you might prefer listening to music or an audiobook.
The symptoms and treatments of late-stage lung cancer can take a toll on your mental health. It’s essential to care for your emotional well-being.
You may find joining a support group is helpful. It’s an opportunity to share experiences and wisdom with others who are going through the same experience as you.
Working with a mental health professional may also be beneficial. This person can help you to identify, understand, and cope with difficult thoughts and feelings.
It can be challenging to manage the symptoms and side effects of late-stage lung cancer. 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 better cope with symptoms of lung cancer and treatments.