Lung cancer is a type of cancer in which abnormal cells grow uncontrollably in the lungs. Common symptoms of lung cancer include a persistent cough, chest pain, fatigue, recurring lung infections, and shortness of breath. The predominant types of lung cancer are non-small cell carcinoma (NSCLC) and small cell carcinoma (SCLC). NSCLC is more prevalent and progresses gradually, whereas SCLC is less common but frequently advances rapidly. Treatment options are customized based on the individual’s medical history and disease stage.
Lung Cancer Treatment
Treatments for lung cancer are based on the cancer type, extent of spread, and medical history. Early detection of lung cancer can lead to improved treatments and outcomes.
Treatments include: Surgery, Radiotherapy, Chemotherapy, Targeted therapy, and Immunotherapy. Surgery is often utilized in the early stages of lung cancer if the tumor has not spread to other areas of the body. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can help shrink the tumor.
Stages of Care
Early-stage disease: The primary treatment for early-stage lung cancer, when a tumor(s) is limited to the lung, with no metastatic dissemination to distant organs or lymph nodes) is surgical removal of the tumor through procedures such as lobectomy, segmentectomy, or wedge resection. Neoadjuvant therapy (chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy before surgery) can help reduce tumor size, making it more amenable to surgical removal. Adjuvant treatment (chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy) is very often recommended after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. In cases where surgery is not feasible, radiation therapy or stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) may be used as the primary treatment. Targeted therapy and immunotherapy may also be considered based on specific tumor characteristics. Individualized treatment plans should be discussed with healthcare professionals.
Advanced disease: The treatment for metastatic stage lung cancer, where the cancer has spread to distant organs or lymph nodes, is based on various factors, including the patient’s overall health, the extent and location of metastases, medical history, genetics, and individual preferences. Chemotherapy is often the first-line treatment for the majority of patients worldwide and involves the use of drugs that circulate throughout the body to kill cancer cells. Combination chemotherapy regimens are commonly used, and the choice of drugs depends on factors such as the type of cancer and the patient’s general health conditions. Targeted therapy, designed to block the signaling pathways that drive the growth of cancer cells, is an important option for patients with specific genetic mutations or biomarkers identified in their tumor. Immunotherapy, specifically immune checkpoint inhibitors, has revolutionized the treatment of metastatic lung cancer. These drugs help to stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. Local treatments, such as radiation therapy and surgery, may be used to manage specific metastatic sites or alleviate symptoms caused by tumor growth.
What to Expect
Being diagnosed with lung cancer can be overwhelming and emotionally challenging. You may experience stress, worry, anxiety, anger, grief, or even depression. It’s crucial to understand that these emotions are normal and valid. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support and talk about your feelings with your loved ones, specialists, or a mental health professional like a counselor. They can provide guidance, a listening ear, and help you navigate through the emotional journey of living with lung cancer.
Nourishing Your Body
Getting enough sleep is also vital for your mental wellbeing. Many people affected by lung cancer struggle with sleep difficulties. Medications, lung cancer symptoms, side effects, and the stress and anxiety of a diagnosis can all disrupt your sleep. Lack of sleep can affect your mood, cognitive function, and overall quality of life. To improve your sleep, establish a regular bedtime routine, avoid electronic gadgets before bed, try relaxation techniques like light stretches or reading, and ensure your bedroom is comfortable.
Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial when living with lung cancer. Loss of appetite and weight loss are common challenges that can be caused by the cancer itself, treatment, medication, or emotional factors such as worry or anxiety. However, it’s important to eat a varied and nourishing diet to support your overall well-being. Consider eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day instead of three large meals.
Smoking tobacco (including cigarettes, cigars, and pipes) is the primary risk factor for lung cancer, but it can also impact non-smokers. Additional risk factors involve exposure to secondhand smoke, occupational hazards (such as asbestos, radon and certain chemicals), air pollution, hereditary cancer predispositions, and prior chronic lung diseases. Discontinuing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke and other hazards is one of the first steps in helping your body recover.
Staying Active and Exercising
Staying active and engaging in light exercise can have numerous benefits for individuals living with lung cancer. Regular exercise has been shown to help manage lung cancer fatigue, reduce stress and anxiety, boost mood and energy levels, improve sleep, reduce the risk of depression, increase appetite, and enhance overall well-being. It’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program, especially if you have specific health considerations. Consider incorporating breathing exercises, stretching, and strength training into your routine.
Balancing Work and Treatment
A lung cancer diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop working. Many people continue to work while living with lung cancer, but it’s important to understand your employment rights and make informed decisions based on your individual circumstances. Communication with your employer is key to discussing your condition, potential adjustments to your work environment, flexible working hours, or phased return to work. Remember, there are support systems available, including lung cancer nurse specialists, to help you navigate the challenges of balancing work and treatment.
Throughout your journey of living with lung cancer, remember that you are not alone. Supportive care is important for people with lung cancer. It aims to manage symptoms, provide pain relief, and offer emotional support. It can help to increase the quality of life for people with lung cancer and their families. Reach out for support from lung cancer specialists, join support groups, and lean on your loved ones. Together, you can navigate the emotional, physical, and practical aspects of living well with lung cancer.
At PFSP, we want to ease your mind and assist you through the journey. Our pharmacists will come along side you to explain anything you want to know about the medications you are taking, make you aware of any side effects you may encounter, and support you through the process.