Living with Lung Cancer

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Contents

Content on HealthUnlocked does not replace the relationship between you and doctors or other healthcare professionals nor the advice you receive from them.

Never delay seeking advice or dialling emergency services because of something that you have read on HealthUnlocked.

Symptoms

Your symptoms, and how they might change

Lung cancer can cause symptoms in a number of ways. A growing tumour can press on airways and areas in and near the lungs, causing discomfort, pain or blockages. The cancer’s growth can cause symptoms such as fatigue and weight loss. And lung cancer can cause further symptoms if it spreads to other parts of your body, such as the liver, bones or brain.

Symptoms as the disease develops

Early lung cancer usually shows no signs or symptoms, so you can have it for some time without noticing anything. Many common symptoms – such as a long-standing cough, repeated chest infections, pain when breathing or coughing, weight loss, or being constantly tired and lacking energy – are all too easily ignored or mistaken for something else. That’s why lung cancer is often only discovered when it is already quite advanced.

If you have not been diagnosed with lung cancer, but have any of the symptoms mentioned here, tell your GP.

Symptoms of a spreading cancer

If your cancer has spread beyond your lungs, there are sets of different symptoms depending on where in your body the cancer has spread. Lung cancer can spread to lymph nodes in your chest, neck, armpit or abdomen; to the brain, liver or bones; or to the adrenal glands, which produce essential hormones.

‘Incurable’ doesn’t mean ‘untreatable’

If your cancer is so advanced that it can’t be cured, it may still be treated. The aim of treatment will be to slow growth and control your cancer for as long as possible. If treating the cancer itself becomes impossible, you may still be able to live well for some time. You will have a palliative care team, who are experts in symptom management and pain control, and will provide support and treatment to manage your illness. Their aim is to ensure you and your loved ones enjoy the best possible quality of life.

Head over to NHS Choices to watch this video in which Joe and Melita describe their palliative care experience:

Palliative Care

How long have I got?

It’s a question many people with incurable lung cancer ask – and it’s one that no-one can answer with certainty. If you want to know, your doctor may be able to make an informed guess based on experience. But it’s still a guess.

Some people want to know how lung cancer may eventually cause death. This is often difficult for people with lung cancer and their loved ones, and you may not want to look that far ahead. If you do want to know about this, you can read about how lung cancer causes death at verywell.com.

Your options and decisions

All your cancer treatment options should be discussed with you and the plan for what’s going to be done should be agreed between you and the clinicians looking after you. Research shows that patients get better outcomes when these decisions are truly shared. The same shared planning should apply if your cancer can’t be cured. Do you want to be cared for at home? Will you need to be in hospital? Do you want to go to a hospice? If so, when? You have choices and your views should always be taken into account.

‘I took inspiration from everyone to keep me going’

Sharon Hargreaves says she stayed positive through her treatment by drawing inspiration from everyone around her – family, friends, other patients and medical staff.

“When I was having chemotherapy, I was in hospital for a week at a time. I was totally inspired by the nurses, consultants, the palliative care team and even the tea lady,” she says. “The day I was told that I could have the tumour removed, when initially it was not possible, I was totally inspired by my surgeon.”

Don’t suffer in silence

Overall, around half of people with lung cancer have little or no pain, though pain is more common in advanced cancer¹. If you do have pain, talk to your medical team straight away – there are many very effective treatments to control any pain you have.

There are also non-medical techniques you can use to help cope with pain.

Books on lung cancer

There are thousands of books on the market about lung cancer and cancer in general. Some are very good, others much less so. If you want to read about lung cancer, Cancer Research UK has a list of recommended books. Titles include '100 Questions and Answers About Lung Cancer', 'Be a Survivor – Lung Cancer Treatment Guide', 'Coping with chemotherapy', and 'Coping with radiotherapy'.

Content on HealthUnlocked does not replace the relationship between you and doctors or other healthcare professionals nor the advice you receive from them.

Never delay seeking advice or dialling emergency services because of something that you have read on HealthUnlocked.