Survivorship and Follow-Up Care

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

Survivorship from cancer is defined as the time period from diagnosis throughout the rest of a person’s life. Lung cancer can have a significant impact on the individual, as well as close family members and friends. The impact of lung cancer is felt physically, emotionally, and financially.

Emotional challenges of survivorship

Many lung cancer survivors experience emotional distress, including depression, fear, and anxiety. Emotional distress can occur from diagnosis, throughout treatment, and after treatment is concluded. Some lung cancer survivors experience significant grief as they mourn the loss of health, sex drive, fertility, or physical independence. Many survivors also experience survivor guilt when they survive from lung cancer while they see others don’t. The emotional challenges of lung cancer can be significant; however, there are services that can help. Support groups and counseling help many lung cancer survivors work through their emotional challenges.1,2

Financial challenges of survivorship

Lung cancer treatment can take a huge financial toll, even for people with health insurance. Many patients find that not all of their cancer treatment costs are covered by their insurance, leaving them with large out-of-pocket (paid by the patients themselves) expenses. In addition, some insurance companies won’t pay for treatments that they consider experimental.2

Cancer survivors are more likely to declare bankruptcy than those who don’t have cancer, and many cancer survivors cannot return to work or can only work at a limited capacity, adding to their financial stresses. Some may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, which can help ease financial concerns. Others find that they can apply for Medicare, Medicaid, or find reasonably priced insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Some cancer survivors leverage their life insurance or retirement plans, such as taking a loan through these funds to help with costs.1,2

Moving forward after treatment

After treatment for lung cancer is completed, many people want to understand the meaning of their experience as well as how to move forward with their life post-cancer. Their emotional needs may also be high, as many continue to experience distress and have fears of recurrence (cancer returning). Counseling and support groups can provide coping strategies and help lung cancer survivors who are experiencing emotional distress.

Lasting physical effects

Lung cancer treatment is often complex, requiring multiple treatment methods and specialists. The treatments may cause immediate or long-term side effects, such as:

  • Fatigue, which affects up to 90% of lung cancer survivors and is associated with shortness of breath, depressed mood, and anxiety
  • Pain, which is one of the most distressing symptoms experienced by lung cancer survivors and is the most common cause of disability
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea), which impacts quality of life
  • Cough, which is the most common symptom experienced by survivors throughout the course of their disease and into survivorship 3

Following surgery for lung cancer, many survivors experience reduced pulmonary function, diminished capacity to exercise, and restrictions in their physical activity. These lasting physical effects of lung cancer can also impact the emotional distress experienced by survivors.3

Follow-up care

After treatment is completed, survivors will receive follow-up medical care, which involves regular check-ups and may include imaging procedures, blood work, or other lab tests. These follow-up appointments are important to help survivors cope with lingering effects from treatment, to identify any possible recurrences of the cancer, and to help in the prevention or early detection of new cancers. Outside of these regularly scheduled follow-up appointments, survivors should also call their health care provider if they experience any symptoms of the cancer recurring.3,4

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