Menu

Practical Tips for People With Lung Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on February 26, 2021

Living your day-to-day life with lung cancer can bring a lot of challenges. Nearly 80% of people living with lung cancer say they have a difficult time with physical symptoms. This can include breathing problems, fatigue, pain, issues with sleep, diet, and general quality of life.

In addition to the cancer itself, things like not being able to be as physically active, treatment side effects, and the stress of having a serious condition may take a toll on your well-being.

But there are things you can do to ease some of the burden. These strategies may help improve your quality of life as you go through treatment.

Take Care of Your Lungs

Shortness of breath is common among people with lung cancer. The medical term for this is dyspnea. You may feel tightness in your chest. Or your lung tumors may grow in a way that hampers your airways. This can cause breathing troubles when you’re active or resting.

But there are things you can do for your breathlessness.

If you smoke tobacco, it’s never too late to quit. Speak to your doctor about ways you can stop smoking. Avoid secondhand smoke, too.

Try oxygen therapy. Your lungs take in oxygen that your whole body needs. But if you have severe shortness of breath, your organs may not get enough oxygen. This is called hypoxemia. This can affect your body’s ability to work properly.

To treat this, your doctor may prescribe oxygen therapy. You get the extra oxygen from an oxygen tank, some of which are small and portable enough to take when you go out. Talk to your doctor about how to use and take care of the device.

Conserve Your Energy

Lung cancer and its treatments and breathlessness can leave you with lingering tiredness. Most people with lung cancer -- 90%, studies show -- feel fatigue. Try to be strategic by pacing yourself throughout the day.

  • Get rest by taking short naps throughout the day.
  • Light exercise like walking can boost energy, if you’re up to it.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet. You may need to supplement calories if you’ve lost a lot of weight because of the cancer.

Manage Pain With Palliative Care

Lung cancer treatment and recovery can put your body through a lot of physical pain. Palliative care can help you feel as good as possible, given your circumstances.

It can include:

  • Pain relief. This may include medication.
  • Medication to help with loss of appetite or nausea if you have any
  • Emotional, social, mental health, and spiritual support

You can get palliative care while you’re treating the cancer. Ask your doctor about it at any stage of lung cancer, as palliative care is not limited to hospice or end-of-life care.

Plan Your Meals

Treatments like chemo can curb appetite and cause nausea. This can make it hard to eat and get enough calories for your body to get through the day. If you’re having issues eating enough or keeping your food down, talk to a nutritionist to come up with a meal plan that works best for you.

  • Eat smaller meals often.
  • Bland foods are less likely to make you feel nauseated.
  • Try non-caffeinated teas, like those made of peppermint or ginger, to settle your stomach.
  • Supplement with liquid meal replacements.

Let your doctor know if nausea or appetite loss is a problem.

Make Sleep a Priority

When you live with cancer, it’s quite common to have trouble falling or staying asleep. Apart from the cancer itself, too many naps during the day or shortness of breath may be part of the cause. Side effects from treatments or medication can cause it too. So can pain.

For better sleep, try these tips:

  • Keep a sleep diary. Log when you have issues with your daily sleep pattern.
  • Go to sleep when you feel drowsy. Don’t resist it.
  • Try to limit naps to an hour if you’re having issues falling asleep.
  • Don’t drink coffee or other drinks with caffeine about 6 to 8 hours before you head to bed.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Try to take your medications at the same time every day.
  • Drink warm decaf drinks like tea before you sleep.
  • Go over all the medications with your doctor. Sometimes, drugs can affect your sleep.

If you’re still having issues with sleep, speak to your oncologist, palliative care provider, or a sleep specialist.

Pay Attention to Your Emotions

A cancer diagnosis is often life-changing. Managing doctor visits, scans, treatment appointments, and insurance paperwork along with your other day-to-day responsibilities is a lot to deal with. It’s common to feel a wide range of emotions. If you get anxiety or depression, those conditions can be treated.

If your mood troubles you, you can:

  • Seek advice and therapy from a mental health professional.
  • Try not to keep your feelings bottled up. Make sure you have people you can talk to about what’s on your mind, whether it’s a loved one, a counselor, or people in a support group.
  • Light exercises like walking can help with anxiety.
  • Talk to your doctor about therapy and medications that can help.
  • Try mindfulness activities like yoga and meditation.
  • Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel.
  • Do breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • Take comfort in the support of loved ones.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer society: “Anxiety,” “Managing sleep Problems,” “What Are Sleep Problems?”

American Lung Association: “Staying Healthy with Lung Cancer,” “How Do I Manage Lung Cancer Side Effects?” “Supportive (Palliative) Care for Lung Cancer.”

UpToDate: “Overview of approach to lung cancer survivors.”

Chest Foundation: “What is oxygen therapy?”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.