Lung cancer : Living with

Lung cancer can affect your daily life in different ways, depending on what stage it's at and the treatment you're having.

Although not all these steps work for everybody, there are several ways you can find support to help you cope:

  • talk to your friends and family
  • talk to other people in the same situation
  • know about your condition
  • do not try to do too much
  • make time for yourself

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Breathlessness is common in people who have lung cancer, whether it is a symptom of the condition or a side effect of treatment.

In many cases, breathlessness can be improved with some simple measures such as:

  • breathing in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth (after treatment for lung cancer, you may see a physiotherapist, who can teach you some simple breathing exercises).
  • making daily activities easier – for example, using a trolley when you go shopping or keeping things you often need downstairs, so you don't need to regularly walk up and down the stairs.
  • using a fan to direct cool air towards your face.
  • eating smaller and more frequent meals and taking smaller mouthfuls.

If measures like these aren't enough to control your breathlessness, you may need further treatment. There are medicines that can help to improve breathlessness. Home oxygen treatment may be an option in severe cases.

If breathlessness is caused by another condition, such as a chest infection or a build-up of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion), treating this may help your breathing.

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Some people with lung cancer have pain, while others never have any.

Pain is not related to the severity of the cancer – it varies from person to person. What causes cancer pain isn’t thoroughly understood, but there are ways of treating it so the pain can be controlled.

People with advanced lung cancer may need treatment for pain as their cancer progresses. This can be part of palliative care, and is often provided by doctors, nurses and other members of a palliative care team. You can have palliative care at home, in hospital, in a hospice or other care centre.

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Emotional effects and relationships

Having cancer can lead to a range of emotions. These may include shock, anxiety, relief, sadness and depression.

People deal with serious problems in different ways. It's hard to predict how living with cancer will affect you.

Being open and honest about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help you may put others at ease. But do not feel shy about telling people that you need some time to yourself, if that's what you need.

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Talk to others

Your doctor may be able to reassure you if you have questions, or you may find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor, psychologist or specialist phone helpline. Your GP surgery will have information on these.

You may find it helpful to talk about your experience of lung cancer with others at a local support group. Patient organisations have local groups where you can meet other people who have been diagnosed with lung cancer and had treatment.

If you have feelings of depression, talk to a GP so they can provide you with advice and support.

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Palliative care

If lung cancer cannot be cured and you have a lot of troubling symptoms, your GP and specialist team can give you support and pain relief. This is called palliative care. Support is also available for your family and friends.

As the cancer progresses, your doctor should work with you to establish a clear management plan based on your (and your carer's) wishes. This includes whether you'd prefer to go to hospital, a hospice, or be looked after at home as you become more ill.

It will take account of what services are available to you locally, what's clinically advisable and your personal circumstances.

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