Supportive (Palliative) Care for Lung Cancer

Palliative care can help relieve pain, stress and other symptoms to improve your quality of life at any stage.

Your body will go through many changes as you receive and recover from lung cancer treatment. Because you may experience pain and a variety of other symptoms during this time, you may want to seek supportive care for lung cancer, sometimes called palliative care.

Learn more about what palliative care is and how it can help you.

Speaker 1: Palliative care, sometimes called supportive care, is a key part of lung cancer treatment. This type of care is focused on helping you feel the best you can before, during, and after treatment, and is usually appropriate for all people facing lung cancer, no matter their prognosis. Talk to your doctor about what types of palliative care might be appropriate for you.

What are the benefits of palliative care? Palliative care focuses solely on improving quality of life. It is appropriate to receive this type of care at all stages of your lung cancer journey. It may help you by providing relief from pain and other symptoms of lung cancer. In-depth communication to help you understand your treatment options and establish your treatment goals, and help with communication between you and your other doctors. This might mean providing certain medications and therapies to help you with your symptoms and side effects, counseling to help you cope with the stress of the disease, guidance in treatment decision making, and much more.

Who administers palliative care? Palliative care is provided by a team of palliative care specialists including doctors, nurses, and social workers. While your other doctors and nurses may also help manage your symptoms, only palliative care specialists provide the complex symptom management needed for lung cancer.

How do I get palliative care? The best time to discuss palliative care is at the start of your journey. Ask your oncologist for a palliative care referral, or you can search for a palliative care team at www.getpalliativecare.org. Every patient and caregiver deserves the support that palliative care has to offer. Knowledge is power. By being proactive during your treatment, you put the power in your own hands.

The American Lung Association is solely responsible for content.

Key Points

Palliative care is:

  • The medical specialty focused on relieving pain, stress and other symptoms to improve your quality of life.
  • Care received at the same time as cancer treatment.
  • Care to be discussed even before you have side effects.
  • A specialty that uses a variety of medications to address symptoms and discomfort.

Palliative care is NOT:

  • Only administered during hospice care or at the end of life.
  • A signal that treatment is not working or a replacement for treatment.
  • Morphine-only treatment.
  • Something you should wait to ask for.

Download the Palliative Care and Lung Cancer: Getting the Support You Need worksheet to better understand how palliative care can help you and see questions to ask your care team.

Asking for Palliative Care

Lung cancer palliative care is appropriate at all stages of the illness, not just during end-of-life care. It is perfectly okay for you to ask for supportive care for lung cancer. It does not signal that you are weak or complaining about your symptoms. Palliative care provides relief from a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. Tracking your symptoms can help you talk to your doctor who then can help you get lung cancer supportive care. Download the Medication Tracker or the Treatment Organizer to keep track of symptoms.

Here are just a few things that can be improved through lung cancer palliative care:

  • Communication about prognosis and treatment options
  • Pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems with sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Types of Palliative Care

The type of palliative care you receive depends on your needs and may change throughout your lung cancer treatment process. Here are some examples of types of supportive care for lung cancer:

  • Procedures to open airways
  • Medications to treat pain
  • Medications to suppress a cough, open closed airways and improve breathing
  • Extra oxygen from small, portable tanks
  • Medications to make you hungry
  • Emotional support and counseling
  • Nutritional supplements to reduce weight loss
  • Medications to reduce nausea
  • Integrative services like massage, mindfulness

How Do I Get Palliative Care?

Start talking. You can discuss lung cancer palliative care right at diagnosis and throughout your care. Together with your healthcare team, you can make lung cancer treatment decisions that allow you to live the best life possible during this time.

Who Provides Palliative Care?

Your palliative care team will work with your primary doctor. The team will include experts such as palliative care doctors, nurses and social workers. The team may also work with chaplains, pharmacists, nutritionists, counselors and others.

Where Do I Get Palliative Care?

Palliative care is provided in hospitals, clinics, some long-term care facilities and at home. In some communities, there are special palliative care centers. Talk to your doctor about your palliative care options or visit GetPalliativeCare.org to find a specialist near you.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: October 22, 2021

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