Lifestyle Changes to Manage Lung Cancer
Lifestyle changes can help:
- Strengthen your body so that you can withstand some of the rigors of treatment.
- Optimize the function of your immune system to aid in the fight against cancer.
- Improve your emotional outlook, so you can enjoy life to the fullest, even during treatment for lung cancer.
- Avoid other medical problems that could complicate your health.
Smoking increases the risk of complications from medical procedures and slows tissue healing. It can also cause further irritation to the lungs that are exposed to chemotherapy or radiation.
When you quit smoking , the body immediately begins to repair itself. Quitting will help boost your immune system to help fight the cancer and improve recovery from treatment. It will also reduce your risk of future cancers.
Lung cancer can affect breathing, mobility, speech and swallowing. There are supportive therapies that can help. Examples include:
- Oxygen therapy —Oxygen is supplied in a tank. Many are portable so they can go with you. More oxygen in the bloodstream will increase your energy level and improve quality of life.
- Supportive devices can help you get around more easily. Consider using a cane or a walker if you need to.
- Speech therapy —If tumors affect the esophagus or vocal cords, it may be difficult to swallow or speak. A speech therapist can help with techniques that make it easier.
Supportive therapy can be used for many complications you may encounter during treatment. Keep in touch with your healthcare team when symptoms appear so they can be dealt with promptly.
Reduce Your Risk of Infection
Cancer and its treatments suppress the body's immune system. This can increase the risk of infection, or increase the severity of common infections, like a cold or the flu . To decrease the risk of infection while going through cancer treatment:
- Wash hands thoroughly and often. Hand washing is the most effective method of decreasing the chance of catching colds and flu. Carry hand sanitizer for times when washing is not convenient.
- Try to avoid crowds, especially during cold and flu season.
- Avoid touching eyes, mouth, and nose to after coming in contact with surfaces or objects.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects often.
- Ask your doctor about immunization against the flu and pneumonia .
Make Dietary Changes
A healthful diet can help your body and mind. Your diet can provide fuel to help your body function at its best, and nutrition to help tissue heal and recover. Mood and overall energy will also be better with proper nutritional support. A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and protein, and whole grains.
Cancer itself and some cancer treatment can reduce appetite. It becomes important to make the most of the calories that are eaten. A registered dietitian can help manage challenges that may be found with cancer or cancer treatments, find healthy alternatives, and develop an effective meal plan.
If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor to choose safe exercises. Even light exercise has many benefits that may help you withstand the physical and emotional stresses of cancer and cancer treatment including:
- Promoting overall fitness
- Boosting your energy level
- Improving your immune system
- Boosting your spirits and improving your emotional outlook
Do not start an exercise program until you have been cleared by your doctor.
Fatigue is the most frequently experienced symptom of cancer and cancer treatments. This is especially true with lung cancer. To help avoid getting overtired, prioritize tasks and focus on the most important ones. It is important to allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and preparing meals. If needed, plan time throughout the day for rest.
Fatigue will also be more pronounced without proper nutrition. Talk to your doctor if fatigue is affecting quality of life.
The diagnosis of cancer is a life-defining event that can be difficult to handle. Facing the uncertainty of a serious disease, feeling anxious about how you will feel during treatment, lifestyle changes, and worrying about the impact of both the diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming. It is important to rely on family, friends, and other people in your life. People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from cancer can often maintain better emotional balance. Other sources of support include:
- Religious community
- Support groups for people with your type of cancer
- Professional support from social workers, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists who are trained to help support cancer patients and their families
Family and caregivers may also need support. Encourage them to seek support groups or counseling geared toward them.
Lung cancer is especially difficult because it is usually found in advanced stages, making it harder to treat. Some people choose treatments to ease cancer complications or choose to stop treatment completely. Depending on your circumstances, it may be realistic to begin end-of-life planning. Considerations may include:
- Choosing home or hospice care
- Financial decisions
- Advance directives—includes legal issues, like wills, hospital orders for your care, and power of attorney for medical care and finances
- Insurance coverage
If you need guidance, talk to a member of your healthcare team. You can be referred to a trained professional to guide you through the process.
- Explore oxygen therapy. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/oxt. Updated October 12, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017.
- Nearing the end of life. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/end-of-life-care.html. Accessed August 30, 2017.
- Non-small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114774/Non-small-cell-lung-cancer . Updated June 23, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.
- Small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115654/Small-cell-lung-cancer . Updated June 23, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.
- Stay healthy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/healthy.html. Accessed August 30, 2017.
- Staying healthy. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/lung-cancer/patients/treatment/stay-healthy. Accessed August 30, 2017.
- Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
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