When you have advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), good communication with your doctor should be a top priority. Having an open discussion is key to getting on the right treatment and managing your symptoms.
It’s a good idea to write your questions in advance so you don’t forget. You can also bring someone with you to your appointment to take notes and ask follow-up questions.
Your questions will be specific to your situation, but here are some general questions about treatment to get you started.
Before choosing therapies, you need to decide on your goals. You want to be certain your doctor understands these goals and can tell you if they’re realistic.
Before you start treatment, make sure you and your doctor are in agreement on goals and expectations.
Ask if treatment should be designed to:
- fight cancer
- address specific symptoms to improve overall quality of life
- lengthen life span
- some combination of these
Whatever the goal, treatment may include:
- targeted therapy
- palliative care
Ask your doctor:
- What treatments do you recommend and why?
- Is it intended as a short- or long-term treatment?
- What side effects can I expect?
That last question is important because each type of treatment comes with its own set of side effects. These may include:
- nausea, vomiting
- loss of appetite, weight changes
- hair loss
- flu-like symptoms
Before deciding on treatment, you’ll want some idea of how it will affect you on a day-to-day basis and whether the pros outweigh the cons. Questions to ask your doctor include:
- What are the most common side effects?
- What are the most severe?
- Can side effects be managed? How?
Some treatments may require follow-up testing to see whether it’s working or causing any unnecessary damage. This may require more frequent trips to the treatment center.
You’ll want to know what’s involved so you can make preparations for transportation and anything else you might need.
Certain lifestyle changes may be necessary because of the symptoms of your cancer or side effects of treatment. Some lifestyle changes can help you feel better and complement your treatment. Here are a few issues you can address:
- How will the cancer and the treatment affect my ability to continue working?
- Will it affect my sex life?
- Should I increase or decrease my physical activity? Are there particular exercises that will be beneficial?
- Do I need to make changes to my diet?
If you smoke and need help quitting, ask your doctor to recommend a smoking cessation program.
You can research the general outlook for advanced NSCLC, but it’s just that: a general outlook.
While you may go into remission, advanced NSCLC can be managed for a time, but it’s not considered curable. Still, your individual outlook depends on factors such as:
- overall health, such as coexisting conditions
- choice of treatment
- adherence to the treatment plan
- how well your body responds to treatment
Your doctor can give you some idea of what you can expect based on your medical information.
Through a clinical trial, you may be able to get innovative treatments you can’t get anywhere else. At the same time, you would be helping advance research of safe and effective treatments for lung cancer.
Clinical trials may have strict criteria. Your oncologist can check to see whether there’s a good match for you. Other questions to ask are:
- Where is the trial located?
- What treatment is being tested?
- What are the risks?
- What’s the time commitment?
- Will there be any cost to me?
Palliative care is a specialty with a focus on symptom management and quality of life. You can have palliative care alone or with other treatments. You’ll have access to a multidisciplinary team, which could include:
- social workers
- spiritual advisors
Hospice care is another option available at your own home, a hospital, or hospice setting. This may be a good choice if you’ve decided not to take treatments designed to cure or slow NSCLC.
A hospice care team resembles a palliative care team and may include trained volunteers to support you, your loved ones, and caregivers. Under hospice care, you and your family will have 24/7 access to support.
Your oncologist or treatment center can recommend credible sources of information. They probably maintain a list of local groups that provide practical, everyday help, as well as support groups.
When you’re living with advanced NSCLC, it’s not unusual to have more questions pop up along the way. Oncologists know this and are prepared to answer them. The same goes for all the healthcare providers on your team.
Encourage your family and caregivers to join the conversation. You’re not in this alone.