Next Steps After a Stage 3 Lung Cancer Diagnosis
An advanced lung cancer diagnosis can stop you cold, and any initial reaction is certainly understandable. It’s okay to work through your emotions, and when you’re ready, it can help to focus on what’s in your control. One thing you can do is take steps to get educated about your condition. Learn about stage 3 lung cancer subtypes, what they have to do with treatment options, and how to take care of yourself emotionally throughout the process.
1. Consider getting a second opinion.
Many people diagnosed with cancer turn to another specialist for a second opinion. You may wish to see an oncologist at a specialized cancer institute, which may provide a wider variety of physicians to work with, more precise tumor staging, and more state-of-the-art treatment options. The National Cancer Institute designates cancer centers all over the country, and you can find the center nearest you on their website.
If two doctors tell you similar diagnoses, it’s likely more will also tell you the same thing, so don’t waste time and energy by running around too much. But you can use this time to find the oncologist you feel most comfortable with and confident in. Don’t be afraid to switch doctors if you end up liking another one better during these early days.
2. Learn which subtype you have.
Stage 3 lung cancer is described more specifically as 3A, 3B, or 3C, depending on the size of the primary tumor, the location of any additional tumors in the lungs, and where the cancer has spread in the body. Your doctor will explain which subtype of stage 3 lung cancer you have. It’s a lot to get your head around, but the subtype helps inform your treatment options so it’s important to understand it.
3. Get an idea of your treatment options.
Treatment options for stage 3 lung cancer vary by subtype, but the rules aren’t hard and fast. Your overall health and lung function can change the equation. Surgery is typically an option only for type 3A, and it may not be recommended. Based on your specific type of stage 3 lung cancer, you may be treated with the following methods, alone or in combination, and in a variety of sequences:
Chemotherapy: a treatment that uses powerful drugs to kill fast-growing cells in your body
Radiation therapy: a treatment that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and slow their growth
Targeted therapy: medicines that pinpoint specific cells to stop cancer from growing
Immunotherapy (biologics): medicines that work with your body’s immune system to attack cancer cells
Ask your doctor about tumor testing, which helps determine whether you’re a candidate for different targeted therapies. You may hear tumor testing referred to as molecular, biomarker, or genomic testing.
4. Shore up the support you need—and deserve.
Having a steady partner such as a spouse, family member, or friend to go through the post-diagnosis process with you can be a tremendous help in deciphering details and talking through next steps. However, many people don’t have the perfect partner at hand. Your healthcare team can recommend valuable resources in your community, including others living with lung cancer who have been where you are now.
Be mindful that it’s okay if the best intentions of family and friends are overwhelming you. Be appreciative but honest when loved ones offer unsolicited advice or theories. Learn your boundaries and stick by them. But don’t be afraid to lean on those who love you. It’s important to ask for help when you need it, even if it can take some getting used to.
5. Take care of yourself.
Keep in mind lung cancer isn’t the only thing that defines you—not by a long shot. Take a little time every day to stay in tune with your interests, hobbies, and passions. Or, try some new ones. Your diagnosis can be the beginning of taking care of yourself in new ways, from meditating to quiet your brain, to working with your hands to distract it.