Making Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions
Although many treatment options have similar potential outcomes, their side effects can vary widely. It can be helpful and important for you, an active participant in your cancer care, to become informed about side effects before you select your treatment program. This is one of the most important conversations you will have with your oncologist.
Preparing for Lung Cancer Treatment
Your lung cancer has taken a long time to reach its present size. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, it is advisable to take some time before you start treatment to have additional tests, learn more about your disease and treatment options, talk with loved ones about your illness, and plan for your future.
Tell your doctor about any symptoms you already have before you begin a treatment regimen, such as shortness of breath and fatigue, as well as any symptoms that may result from your treatment regimen. Some disease symptoms can be managed before you even begin therapy to help you tolerate treatment better.
Other measures to take to prepare for treatment include:
If you smoke, your treatment may be more successful if you quit. In fact, most surgeons will insist that you stop smoking before surgery. It is also helpful if you can avoid secondhand smoke. Ask your doctor or nurse about treatment or smoking cessation programs to help you or members of your family quit smoking.
Meet with a nutritionist or dietician.
Nutrition can make a difference in how well you recover from the effects of treatment. Consider meeting with a nutritionist or dietitian before you start any treatment—surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy—to help ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need before, during, and after treatment.
Be physically active.
Physical activity is also important in optimizing your cancer treatment. If you are already an active person, maintain your activities as much as possible even if you need to modify your routine. Be sure to discuss your exercise program with your health care providers.
Assessing Whether Your Lung Cancer Treatment Is Working
There are a number of ways to determine whether your treatment is working.
During therapy, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination
, since lung cancer can affect many organs of the body. The examination helps your doctor determine what tests need to be done. For example, standard diagnostic procedures such as x-rays and CT scans can determine whether a tumor has disappeared, shrunk, stayed the same size, or grown. These tests are usually done after two cycles of therapy.
Also, most doctors use something called performance status
—a measure of your ability to do everyday activities—as an indicator of your overall health and physical functioning. If your pain or discomfort is lessened, breathing is easier, and cough diminishes, your performance status may be improved and it can be assumed indicates that treatment is helping.
Considerations After Initial Lung Cancer Treatment
After treatment is completed, there is still a high risk that lung cancer will recur in the original site or spread to another site. The risk for recurrence increases when the disease is in an advanced stage. It is important that people with lung cancer you work closely with their your health care team to be sure sure that your condition is monitored regularly.
Treatment guidelines suggest that after you have been treated for lung cancer you should see your oncologist: people who have been treated for lung cancer should see their oncologist:
- Every three months for the first two years
- Every six months for two more years
- Annually after four years
Many people continue to see their oncologists or primary care doctor every three months, so that any recurrence can be detected as early as possible. At these visits, your doctor will check your general health status, probably do blood work and other tests, and may schedule a CT or other scan depending on your health history.
In most cases, treatment of advanced, metastatic lung cancer is considered to be palliative rather than curative. The goal of palliative therapy is to prolong survival, shrink the tumor if possible, reduce or /alleviate symptoms, and improve your quality of life.
Palliative therapy can include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted cancer therapies, as well as pain management and oxygen therapy. As with any treatment, make sure you understand the goals and possible benefits and negative aspects of any palliative therapy before you make a decision about it.
Social networking and online support groups are important tools. Reaching out to others who have or have had similar experiences can provide you with valuable insights. Check out Cancer Support Community's The Living Room
for more information on clinically facilitated support online.