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Coping with Lung Cancer

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2017.

As more treatment options become available and researchers continue to search for new ways to diagnose lung cancer at its earliest, most treatable, stages, more people are living with lung cancer. While lung cancer causes the most cancer-related deaths in the United States, the death rates have been declining over time, falling on average 2.0% each year between 2003 and 2012.1,2

Being a cancer survivor has different meanings. For some, it means having no signs of cancer following treatment, also known as “NED” for no evidence of disease. For others, survivorship encompasses living with, through, and beyond cancer. This definition of survivorship begins at diagnosis and continues throughout the rest of a person’s life.3

Each lung cancer survivor has their own experience and individual concerns, however, many lung cancer survivors experience emotional challenges, financial challenges, and the stress of follow-up care. Some lung cancer survivors also have lasting physical effects from treatment.4,5

Nutrition to Support the Lung Cancer Survivor

Nutrition helps supply the body with the resources it needs to heal, recover from injury or illness, and handle stress. Lung cancer places both emotional and physical stress on the body, and several of the treatments used for lung cancer can impact a person’s desire or ability to eat. There are several dietary strategies that can be employed to help support the lung cancer survivor through treatment.6

Exercise to Support the Lung Cancer Survivor

Recent research has shown that exercise is both safe and beneficial for people undergoing treatment for cancer. People who are in treatment for lung cancer are encouraged to get regular physical exercise as much as individually possible. Regular physical activity has many benefits for lung cancer survivors, including reducing fatigue and improving quality of life.7

Smoking Issues

Many lung cancer survivors learn firsthand about the stigma surrounding the disease. There is a potential underlying belief among the population that people get lung cancer because they made poor choices in life, and that because of their poor choices, they deserve their disease. This blaming the person for their disease causes additional suffering to lung cancer patients and their families. The stigma is clearly linked to disease-related distress and poor outcomes in lung cancer patients. In addition, for lung cancer survivors who are smokers or former smokers, there is often an additional emotional burden of guilt, feeling that their actions have caused their disease.8-10

While many people who are diagnosed with lung cancer have already previously quit smoking, some people dealing with lung cancer must also face their addiction. There are many benefits to stopping smoking, even after lung cancer has already been found. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of multiple health problems, impairs healing, and may even reduce the effectiveness of treatment and increase the chances of a second cancer.11


Hospice care is compassionate care for people facing life-limiting illness or injury. Hospice may be provided to help support lung cancer patients and their loved ones when cancer therapies are no longer controlling the disease. Hospice care focuses on controlling pain and symptoms of lung cancer to allow patients to be as comfortable as possible near the end of life.  Hospice care may also encompass offering counseling to family and friends.12

End of Life Planning

End of life planning usually includes making decisions on goals of care, where someone wants to spend their final days (for example, at home versus in the hospital), which treatments for end of life care they want to receive, and what type of palliative care and/or hospice care they want to receive. Conversations about death and dying can be difficult, but understanding the patient’s wishes and priorities allow the patient to have control over choices made at end of life.13

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