If you or a loved one has been newly diagnosed with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), you likely have quite a few decisions to make. Your treatment options and where to get the best care may be front of mind.

An important option you may not have considered is palliative care. One of the main misperceptions about palliative care is that it’s reserved for people who are in the last stages of life.

The reality is, palliative care can benefit you no matter where you are in your cancer journey. In fact, a 2019 study found that people with advanced lung cancer who received palliative care lived longer than those who didn’t.

Here’s why it’s a good idea to consider early palliative care for advanced NSCLC.

Palliative care is a medical specialty that aims to improve the quality of life for people facing serious illnesses like advanced NSCLC.

Also known as supportive care, palliative care addresses a person’s physical and emotional needs by:

  • relieving symptoms
  • reducing stress
  • managing pain

If your doctor suggests palliative care, it doesn’t mean that you’re at the end of life or that your cancer treatments are no longer working.

Palliative care can help improve the quality of life for both patients and their families at any point after a cancer diagnosis.

Many people use palliative care services at the same time they’re actively receiving cancer treatments.

Even if cancer can’t be cured, treatments can help improve how you feel.

Although chemotherapy doesn’t always eliminate a tumor, it may reduce its size to improve symptoms like shortness of breath. If chemotherapy is no longer an option, a variety of medications, therapies, and emotional support may still benefit you.

In many cases, palliative care can help make cancer treatments more effective. When cancer symptoms and treatment side effects are better managed, you may be better able to follow your treatment plan.

Palliative care is additional care offered beyond your cancer treatment plan. Your cancer team will still follow you and your progress.

The supportive care you receive depends on:

  • your side effects
  • symptoms
  • how you’re coping emotionally

Palliative care can help you with many challenges you may face, such as:

  • pain management
  • shortness of breath
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sleep problems
  • nausea
  • constipation
  • appetite loss
  • choosing treatment options
  • communicating with your medical team and loved ones

Your palliative care team will work closely with you to figure out the best supportive care plan for you, which may include:

  • medications to manage advanced NSCLC symptoms and treatment side effects, such as cough, nausea, and loss of appetite
  • medications to relieve pain
  • nutritional supplements to address weight loss
  • integrative care such as massage or mindfulness
  • removal of fluid buildup around the lungs to improve breathing
  • removal of fluid buildup around the heart to help it work better
  • other procedures to open airways, including photodynamic therapy, laser therapy, and stent placement
  • counseling and other emotional support
  • referrals to other services such as home care or financial aid

A team of healthcare providers treat your cancer, which may include oncologists, pulmonologists, and physical therapists. You can think of a palliative care team as an extra level of care on top of your cancer care team.

Some of the health experts on palliative care teams may include:

  • doctors, nurses, and social workers who are specially trained in palliative care
  • counselors
  • nutritionists
  • pharmacists
  • chaplains

Your palliative care team won’t replace your primary team of cancer specialists. They’ll all work together to ensure you receive the best care possible.

Talk to your doctor if you’re interested in palliative care. There may already be a palliative care team in your cancer clinic. Many hospitals have a palliative care team. Some teams do home visits.

Ask even before you think you need support. By having your team in place early on, you’ll be better prepared to cope with more severe symptoms, treatment side effects, and emotional challenges.

If you have health insurance, most private insurers cover palliative care services. Learn the details of your plan by contacting your insurance company.

Medicare and Medicaid also cover palliative care services. Depending on your coverage, services may be offered in the community or a hospital setting.

Your palliative care team can also help you to understand what services are covered.

Keep in mind that insurance plans may use other words to describe palliative care. Even under a different name, you’ll still be able to get the same type of care.

Check that the providers are in your insurance network. Be sure that you understand what copays and fees are involved in various services. Call your insurance provider if you need clarification.

Early palliative care for advanced NSCLC offers many emotional and physical benefits. It can help you better manage symptoms and treatment side effects even if you’re getting treated.

It may also help to reduce the emotional toll that lung cancer can take on you and your loved ones. Your palliative care team will work closely with your cancer care team to give you the best possible care.