Ease Symptoms of Metastatic Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on March 01, 2024
3 min read

After you're diagnosed with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that has spread (metastatic), you'll likely get treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. They may help you live longer and lessen symptoms so you feel better.

While you're in treatment, there are also a few things you can do to improve your comfort. These tips can ease side effects from your cancer and its treatments, and control your pain.

Palliative care doesn't treat your cancer directly, but it does help relieve your pain and other symptoms to improve your quality of life. This type of care also supports your family.

Specially trained doctors and nurses will be in charge of your palliative care, which can include things like:

  • Medicines to manage side effects like pain or nausea from your cancer and its treatment
  • Surgery to shrink the tumor or open up your airway so you can breathe easier
  • Pain medication to ease discomfort from your cancer or treatments
  • Steroid drugs to bring down swelling in your lungs and improve your breathing
  • Bisphosphonate drugs to protect your bones and curb bone pain
  • Emotional support for the stress and anxiety that can come with cancer treatment
  • Information to help guide you and your family through your treatment

Studies show that palliative care helps people with NSCLC have a better quality of life and live longer.

Lung cancer makes it harder to breathe. The tumor can block your airways. Fluid can build up in your lungs. And radiation treatment can inflame lung tissue. Because of all these things, you might feel like you can never take in enough oxygen with each breath.

Supplemental oxygen is one treatment that helps you breathe easier. You breathe oxygen from a small tank through prongs in your nose or a mask that goes over your face.

To get more oxygen into your lungs, you can also try tips like these:

Exercise if you can. Regular activity boosts the flow of oxygen into your bloodstream and strengthens your heart and lungs.

Stay healthy. Infections can make breathing symptoms worse. Try to avoid people who are sick. Wash your hands often during the day.

Drink extra fluids. Water helps thin the mucus in your lungs. Ask your doctor how much you should drink each day.

Raise your pillows. Sleep with your head raised to allow more oxygen to flow into your lungs.

Try relaxation techniques to relieve stress, sleep more soundly, and improve your mood. Some methods to check out:

Meditation. It focuses and calms your mind while you breathe deeply.

Yoga. It integrates deep breathing and meditation with a series of poses.

Tai chi. This exercise combines movement with deep breathing and mental focus.

NSCLC and its treatments can affect your appetite. Treatments like chemotherapy and radiation change your sense of smell and make food flavors taste unappealing. Pain from mouth sores and trouble swallowing can also make it harder for you to eat.

A few things you can try to make food taste better and go down easier:

  • Eat smaller meals or snacks throughout the day, rather than three big meals.
  • Choose foods that are high in protein and fat, like nuts, cheese, and peanut butter.
  • If the smell of cooking bothers you, eat foods cold.
  • Drink a nutritional supplement like Boost or Ensure to get the calories you need.
  • Rinse out your mouth before you eat to flush out the bad taste.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever or use a numbing mouthwash to ease the pain of mouth sores.

If you still can't eat enough, ask your doctor whether you should take medicines called appetite stimulants.

It's natural for late-stage lung cancer to affect your emotions. Don't try to go through this process alone. Rely on the people around you, like friends, family, and neighbors. Lean on your health care team, too.

You can also find support from a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor. Ask your doctor to recommend one of these mental health professionals.

Another option is to join a support group for people with NSCLC. You can find one through your local hospital or an organization like the American Lung Association.