Stage 4 lung cancer means that your cancer has spread from your lung to other parts of your body. Once the cancer spreads it’s hard to cure. Chemotherapy and other treatments can slow your disease and help you live longer, but they probably won’t cure you.
You might have months or years to live after a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis. Or, you could have only weeks. Your doctor will tell you what to expect based on the results of your tests.
At some point, your doctor might tell you that you’ve reached the final stages of lung cancer. Treatment will no longer help you at this point.
The goal at this stage is to ease your pain and other symptoms to help keep you comfortable.
You’ll also need emotional support. It can be challenging to learn you have stage 4 lung cancer, but your healthcare team and other medical professionals can help you and your family members cope.
Whether it’s you or a loved one who is facing the final stages of lung cancer, knowing what to expect can help you navigate the process and get the support you need.
Each person’s experience at the end of life is unique. The process may be very slow and gradual, or quick.
These symptoms are common in people who have reached the final stages of lung cancer:
- shortness of breath
- trouble focusing
- extreme weakness and tiredness
- little interest in eating or drinking
- a rattle in the throat and upper part of the chest during breathing
- fast breathing or pauses in between breaths
Having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean that you or your loved one is close to death, but they can be signs. Your doctor or hospice staff can offer you treatments to relieve these symptoms and make you more comfortable.
Not all symptoms in the final stages of lung cancer are physical. It’s also normal to feel anxious or depressed at this stage.
Ask for support from a therapist or other mental health provider. If you’re spiritual, you may also want guidance from a member of your religious organization.
Cancer happens when cells multiply much faster than normal. Those extra cells form tumors and may spread to other parts of the body, which can damage organs or prevent them from working.
Cancer can damage your lungs to the point where they can’t send out enough oxygen to meet your body’s needs. Or a large tumor can block your lungs and make it hard for you to breathe.
Sometimes the bacteria that cause infections like pneumonia grow when there is a blockage in your lungs. Your body may be too weak from the cancer to fight off the infection.
A tumor can also block a blood vessel. This blockage can slow or stop the flow of blood to your lungs and other parts of your body.
Lung cancer also spreads to vital organs like the liver. Damage to the liver can prevent it from doing its job of removing toxins from your blood, helping your body store energy, and producing cholesterol and proteins.
Cancer that spreads to your brain is also life threatening. Your brain controls all of your vital functions, including breathing.
According to the American Cancer Society, people with stage 4 lung cancer are about
However, lung cancer takes a different course in each person. People can live for weeks, months, or sometimes even years after they’re diagnosed. How long you might live depends on factors like your age, your overall health, and where the cancer is in your body.
Lung cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy can extend the lives of people with stage 4 lung cancer. Yet not everyone is able to receive treatment or wants treatment.
How long you’ll live without treatment is hard to predict. Research finds that people with non-small cell lung cancer live for an average of
Your doctor can give you an idea of your prognosis with stage 4 lung cancer. Looking at your symptoms and how far your cancer has spread will help predict how long you might live.
Once you’re in the final stages of lung cancer and treatment is no longer effective, you can qualify for hospice care. Hospice focuses on relieving your symptoms and supporting you through the rest of your cancer journey. You can receive hospice in your home or at a hospice center.
Whether it’s you or a loved one who is facing the final stages of lung cancer, it can be a very emotional time. Make sure you have all the support you need from your friends and family, doctors, and other members of your healthcare team.