Lung Cancer

Living a Healthy Lifestyle

Living a healthy lifestyle during and after lung cancer treatment can help keep you stronger and better able to cope with the disease and treatment. If you’re a smoker, the most important step you can take is to quit smoking (see below). Many people think that it’s useless to quit when they already have lung cancer, but studies have shown that people who quit smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer have a better response to treatment, an enhanced quality of life and longer survival. Your doctors are ready and eager to help you quit smoking, so talk to them about how they can help.

Be sure to keep your follow-up visits with your oncologists and primary health care provider, eat healthy foods, be as active as you can, get enough rest and stay emotionally healthy. These can all help you feel better both physically and mentally, allowing you to better cope with the day-to-day challenges of living with lung cancer.

Go to your follow-up visits

Your oncologist will schedule routine follow-up visits to track your response to treatment and see if the disease is stable or has progressed. The best way to do this is with CT scans of the chest, which give accurate information about the size of the tumor and the level of response. A recommended follow-up schedule includes a history and physical examination every four to six months for two years, followed by a yearly visit. This schedule may differ depending on the stage of lung cancer and the type of treatment you had. Keep your appointments so that your doctor can track how well you’re doing and can start treatment again early, if necessary.

You should also see your primary-care provider regularly to check your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels as well as your bone health. Make sure to follow recommended cancer screening schedules for colorectal, prostate, breast and cervical cancer, as appropriate.

Eat a healthy diet

It may be a challenge to maintain proper nutrition if you experience side effects such as loss of appetite or nausea. But a healthy diet can help you gain strength, which is especially needed during treatment cycles. In general, be sure to eat a wide variety of healthy foods and drink plenty of liquids. Because some cancer treatments can cause a loss of bone mass, it’s helpful to eat dairy foods and other foods high in calcium. Talk to your doctor about the need for calcium and vitamin D, either in your diet or as supplements.

Be active

Physical activity and regular exercise can help you feel better overall. Although it doesn’t seem to make sense, exercise is actually the best treatment for fatigue. Studies have shown that people with cancer who exercise regularly feel less tired and have more energy. Weight-bearing activities, such as walking, can help strengthen bones, which is important if you have bone metastasis. Think about what activity you enjoy most and do it daily, as often as you can tolerate it. If you have pain or discomfort with your favorite form of exercise, try doing it differently to avoid pain rather than not doing it at all.

Get enough rest

Sleep problems are common among people with cancer. Fatigue related to cancer often leads people to take frequent naps during the day, which then makes it difficult to sleep at night. You can still set aside time for rest or naps, but limit them to 20 to 30 minutes each and avoid napping in the late afternoon or early evening. Your doctor may review your medications and change some of them if he or she thinks that drug interactions or side effects are contributing to your sleep problems. Your doctor may also recommend a medication to help you sleep.

Manage stress

Discovering ways to best manage stress will help you cope better. Some possibilities are meditation, guided imagery, muscle relaxation and yoga. Some people with lung cancer have found that yoga also helps relieve discomfort associated with metastasis. Ordinary “escapes,” such as reading, television and games, can also help you relax.

Stay emotionally healthy

Any cancer diagnosis causes substantial emotional reactions, and the thought of living with lung cancer can be especially overwhelming. You may feel a wide range of emotions, from fear and uncertainty when dealing with treatment decisions, to anger at the loss of control, to happiness when hearing positive test results. Allowing yourself to express your emotions freely is vital to remaining emotionally healthy.

Be alert to depression

For some people, the emotional distress of living with lung cancer becomes more serious, and depression may develop. Depression is more complex than feeling sad or hopeless; rather, it’s a disorder consisting primarily of a depressed mood and loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities. A diagnosis of depression requires that at least five of the following symptoms occurred every day for at least two weeks:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “numb” feeling
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in once-enjoyed hobbies and activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Repeated episodes of crying

Depression is treated with counseling or medication or both. People with mild depression may find benefit in counseling only, and moderate or severe depression is typically managed with a combination of counseling and medication. Many antidepressants are available, and the ones used most often for people with cancer belong to a class known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Each drug has different side effects, which can usually be managed by adjusting the dose or switching the medication. Your doctor will work with you to find the antidepressant that works best for you with minimal side effects. Antidepressants do not take effect right away; SSRIs become effective in about two to four weeks, and other drugs may take three to six weeks.

A class of drugs known as psychostimulants has also shown some promise in the treatment of depression and fatigue. These drugs help improve alertness during the day and raise your energy level while also reducing fatigue, and they can also act against the drowsiness caused by some opioids. This class of drugs includes modafinil (Provigil), armodafinil (Nuvigil), methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine).

Counseling may be done on an individual basis to help explore emotional issues that contribute to depression. Another type of counseling is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps a person change his or her negative thought patterns and behaviors. Counseling, especially in a group setting, can improve your quality of life by helping you improve your communication with family members and friends, face fears about death and dying, and help control pain and other symptoms.

Depression can occur at any time, but it’s most likely to occur during times of unrelieved symptoms or side effects. The pain, extreme fatigue, nausea and vomiting associated with cancer or its treatment can have a substantial impact on your emotional health, so talk to your doctor about ways to relieve these side effects. Learn more about Depression.

Set priorities

At no other time is it more important to think about all that you have in your life and to set priorities. Priorities differ among people, and you should listen only to yourself in setting them. Some people prefer to maintain their daily routine and continue working, as it makes them feel “normal.” Others prefer to pursue more enjoyable activities and devote more time to travel, hobbies or time with family and friends. Becoming a volunteer helps some people gain perspective as well as a sense of purpose, and many find support and comfort in spirituality. Think about what matters most to you and spend most of your time doing it.

Maintain relationships

Maintaining strong relationships with others is another key element in emotional well-being. This may be difficult, as you may feel like others don’t understand what you’re going through. Your friends may avoid talking with you because they don’t know what to say or are afraid to say the wrong thing. Reach out to family and friends. Tell them about your fears – and happiness – so they can better understand your experience. Also, admit that you may need help sometimes.

Intimate relationships may also present a challenge. Cancer and its treatment affect how you feel about yourself and your body and how you relate intimately to your spouse or significant other. Talk openly with your partner to keep a good intimate relationship.

Get support

Coping with lung cancer is a challenge no one should have to face alone. Talking with other people with lung cancer can help you learn more about the disease, treatment options, resources and how to cope, as well as provide emotional support and help you feel less alone. Support groups provide a wide variety of benefits for people living with lung cancer.

Various kinds of support groups are available. Your doctor or nurse should be able to provide you with a list of local support groups in your area. Many online groups and lists are also available, which offer the advantage of being available all the time and are often preferred by those who would rather not talk face-to-face or who do not feel well enough to go to a local group meeting.


Stop smoking: Why Quitting is the Right Decision

Once lung cancer has been diagnosed, some people think it is too late to quit smoking. But quitting smoking at any time is beneficial because it helps improve the body’s ability to heal after surgery and respond to chemotherapy and other treatments.

When you stop smoking, the health benefits begin immediately:

  • Heart rate and blood pressure, which are abnormally high while smoking, begin to return to normal.
  • Within a few hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood begins to decline. (Carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.)
  • Within a few weeks, blood circulation improves, less phlegm is produced, and coughing or wheezing is reduced.
  • Within several months, lung function improves substantially.

In addition to these health benefits, you will have an improved sense of smell and taste.

Even if lung cancer has been diagnosed, quitting is always the right decision. Quitting is difficult, but you are not alone. Organizations dedicated to improving lung health and preventing lung disease are making it easy for people to get help while they’re trying to quit. Talk with your medical team and see the resources listed here to learn about websites, apps, phone counseling and support groups that are available to assist you.

Quitting Apps

Many smartphone apps are available, and they work differently. Some offer tips for quitting or encouragement when you’re struggling, and others track your progress or provide access to more support. Most are free to download, so it’s easy to try them out and see which works best for you.

Resources for quitting


Additional Resources


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