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Coping With Side Effects of Advanced Lung Cancer Treatment

By

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN


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Types and Stages of Lung Cancer

The type and stage of your lung cancer will determine how your doctor approaches your treatment.
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Cancer survivor

There are two main treatments available for patients with late stage lung cancer: chemotherapy and radiation. Both can cause side effects you might experience during the course of your treatment. Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with these side effects. If you experience any of the side effects listed, it’s important to let your doctor know as soon as you can. He or she can work to adjust your treatment regimen or find way to alleviate your symptoms.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the most common treatment for patients with advanced lung cancer. Many patients experience fatigue during the course of their chemotherapy. If there are any underlying causes of your fatigue, like anemia, your doctor might recommend certain medications to correct them. He or she might also choose to prescribe medications—such as sleep aids or certain pain medications—to help you feel better.

You can also manage your fatigue by making small changes to your daily routine. Try to set aside time every day to rest, making a conscious effort to conserve your energy. It’s important to pace yourself and not overcommit to work or other activities if you’re feeling weak or tired.

Nausea and vomiting are common, making it difficult get the nutrition you need to help your body heal. You should tell your doctor right away if you’re having this issue, as he or she can prescribe anti-nausea medicine that might make it easier for you to eat. Highly effective medications are now available to prevent and reverse chemo-related nausea and vomiting. Greasy, fried, salty, sweet or spicy foods can all make you nauseated, so stay away from these types of foods. Try to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and eat five or six smaller meals instead of three larger meals.

One of the most emotionally distressing chemotherapy side effects you might experience is the loss of your hair. Professional counseling and support groups can help you deal with body image issues brought on by your cancer treatment. Building a community of support with people who know exactly what you’re going through can be extremely beneficial for helping you cope.

It’s also important to take care of your head and scalp to prevent as much hair loss as possible. You can cut back on how often you wash your hair. When you do wash it, use a gentle formula shampoo. Don’t scrub your scalp and be sure to pat or air dry your hair to prevent more damage. If needed, wearing a wig or hairpiece can increase your confidence and help lessen the emotional burden hair loss can cause.

Radiation 

Radiation treatment often causes some of the same side effects as chemotherapy, like fatigue and nausea. But there are other radiation side effects you might experience, such as skin irritation. To reduce your skin’s irritation, make sure you’re washing your skin with mild soap and water, and dry it completely. It’s also important to avoid using deodorants, perfumes or cosmetic products on the affected area. These products could cause your skin to become even more irritated.

Another common, and usually temporary, side effect of lung cancer radiation therapy is difficulty swallowing. You might choke, gag or cough when you try to swallow foods or liquids, or you might feel like something’s stuck in your throat. To deal with this issue, your doctor might recommend an appointment with a speech language pathologist who will teach you new ways to swallow to avoid discomfort. Your doctor might also prescribe certain medications that could help reduce any inflammation in your esophagus caused by your radiation treatment.

Good nutrition is essential in the fight against cancer. At home, try to eat soft foods like yogurt or pudding, or foods that can easily be blended or moistened. Use straws if you can to drink liquids, and take small bites, being sure to eat slowly and carefully. It can also help to drink meal replacement beverages that are easier to swallow to ensure you’re getting proper nutrition throughout the day.

Since there are many common side effects of advanced lung cancer treatments, it’s important to let your doctor know immediately about any problems you might be having. Every cancer patient is unique, so there’s no way to know which, if any, side effects you’ll experience. However, with the right planning and help, you can learn to manage any treatment side effects you might have.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jan 25, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Systemic Chemotherapy for Advanced Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: Recent Advances and Future Directions. The Oncologist. http://theoncologist.alphamedpress.org/content/13/suppl_1/5.full
  2. Treatment choices for non-small cell lung cancer, by stage. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-treating-by-stage
  3. Cancer. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/in-depth/cancer-fatigue/art-20047709?pg=2
  4. Managing Treatment Side Effects. Lungcancer.org. http://www.lungcancer.org/find_information/publications/163-lung_cancer_101/271-treatment_side_effec...
  5. Fatigue and Cancer Fatigue. Chemocare. http://chemocare.com/chemotherapy/side-effects/fatigue-and-cancer.aspx
  6. Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects: Nausea and Vomiting. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/nausea.pdf
  7. Hair Loss or Alopecia. Cancer.net. http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/side-effects/hair-loss-or-alopecia
  8. Lung Cancer Treatment. RadiologyInfo.org. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=lung-cancer-therapy
  9. Difficulty Swallowing or Dysphagia. Cancer.net. http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/side-effects/difficulty-swallowing-or-dysphagia
  10. Side effects of lung cancer surgery. Lung Cancer Alliance. http://www.lungcanceralliance.org/get-information/other-information/lung-cancer-online/symptoms-side-effects-and-complications/treatment-side-effects/surgery-side-effects/introduction.html
  11. Surgery for non-small cell lung cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/lungcancer-non-smallcell/detailedguide/non-small-cell-lung-cancer-treating-surgery

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