Living Well With Lung Cancer – Palliative Care Can Help

By Andrew Esch, MD 

When living with lung cancer, you are not just living with the disease. You’re also living with symptoms and treatment side effects. Pain, shortness of breath, coughing, nausea, fatigue, and depression can all become unwelcome parts of your life. These symptoms and side effects can stop you from doing the things you enjoy with the people you love; they can make it difficult to keep up with the recommended course of treatment, and they can linger after treatment is over. 

But there are ways to manage these challenges to make sure that you and your family can live life as well as possible. Palliative care can help.

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness, like lung cancer. This type of care is focused on relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

Get Palliative Care Early

Palliative care helps people with lung cancer feel better, continue doing the things they enjoy, and stay in treatment as long as possible. Studies have shown that palliative care can also help people with lung cancer live longer. Treating the pain, symptoms, and stress of cancer and its treatment are just as important as treating the cancer, so palliative care can and should be provided soon after a lung cancer diagnosis. In fact, the main organization representing cancer doctors, American Society of Clinical Oncology, recommends that patients living with cancer should receive palliative care early in the disease course, and alongside treatment for the cancer. 

In addition to treating your symptoms and side effects of treatment, the palliative care team will take the time to help you match your treatment options to your goals – and they will coordinate with your other doctors to make sure that everyone is on the same page. 

You can learn more by watching this webinar, where I describe how palliative care helps people living with lung cancer, and answer common questions about it. You can also listen to this podcast, where one patient shares his journey with lung cancer, including how palliative care supported him and his family throughout the illness. 

If you are living with lung cancer, ask your cancer doctor for a palliative care referral – the earlier the better. Palliative care is available in most hospitals and it is growing quickly in outpatient clinics. In some areas, palliative care teams are available for home visits. You can also search this Provider Directory for palliative care resources in your area.

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