Late stage lung cancer is also called stage 4 lung cancer, or metastatic lung cancer. The goal of treatment is to control growth and spread, treat any symptoms, and extend life.
Palliative care refers to treatment or support to help you manage any symptoms or side effects resulting from your cancer or cancer treatment.
The goal of palliative care is to improve and enhance your life. You can receive palliative care at the same time as your cancer treatment. Adopting early palliative care has been shown to improve quality of life and survival in some people with metastatic lung cancer.
Examples of palliative care include procedures to treat fluid buildup around the lungs or heart, procedures to open airways, medications to help with pain, support for appetite loss or nausea, and emotional support.
It’s unlikely that late stage lung cancer can be completely cured. In rare cases where there is very little spread, surgery along with radiation and other treatments may be an option for a favorable longer-term prognosis. However, only a small number of metastatic lung cancers are diagnosed with limited spread.
There are several treatments available for late stage lung cancer that can help control the spread of the cancer, improve quality of life, and extend life. Your prognosis depends on many factors, including your specific type of cancer, how it responds to treatment, how far the cancer has spread, and your overall health.
The 5-year survival rate for late stage lung cancer is about 6 percent. This means that 6 percent of people with late stage lung cancer at diagnosis will be alive 5 years later.
Side effects for late stage lung cancer depend on the type of treatment you receive as well as your overall health. Different systemic treatments include targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy.
Some side effects of these drugs include:
- loss of appetite
- hair loss
- mouth sores
- low blood counts
- rashes and itching
- joint pain
- vision changes
For some treatments, more serious side effects are possible.
Treatments won’t necessarily have all of these side effects. Some have more side effects than others. The specific side effects depend on your particular treatment. If you’re not tolerating a particular therapy, your doctor may recommend switching to a different one.
Treatment for late stage lung cancer depends on your specific type of cancer and the extent of spread. In some cases, localized treatment such as surgery to remove your cancer or radiation to treat one or more tumors may be recommended.
Most often, systemic treatment is needed. Your doctor may order biomarker tests to determine if your cancer has any gene or protein changes that can be targeted for treatment.
Common systemic treatments include:
- targeted therapy (angiogenesis inhibitors, tyrosine kinase inhibitors)
- immunotherapy (PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitors, CTLA-4 inhibitors)
Chemotherapy may be given in combination with immunotherapy or targeted therapy. Your doctor may also recommend a clinical trial to explore new available therapies to treat your cancer.
Lifestyle changes may help you manage treatment side effects and improve your quality of life. If you smoke, it’s important to stop. Smoking may adversely impact your response to treatment and overall health.
Eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, and getting plenty of rest may help you maintain your strength and improve your energy. You can reduce your risk of infection by washing your hands often and avoiding crowds.
Receiving a diagnosis of late stage lung cancer and starting treatment can be overwhelming. It may help to seek regular emotional support through your community, support groups, or counselors.
Dr. Yamini Ranchod is an epidemiologist with training in the social determinants of health, cancer epidemiology, cardiovascular epidemiology, and women’s health. She received her MS in Epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health and her PhD in Epidemiology from The University of Michigan. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley. Her academic research has been cited in Reuters and published in prestigious public health journals such as The American Journal of Epidemiology, The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Annals of Epidemiology, and Ethnicity and Disease.