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Supportive Care for Lung Cancer Survivors

by Christie Pratt-Pozo, MA, DHSC

Photo by Cancer Type

Advances in early detection and the development of new treatment options have increased survival rates for people with lung cancer over the last decade. However, many of these improvements are associated with long-term side effects. Advances in sup­portive care have changed the cancer experience for many people. Sup­portive care is a valuable part of the success of treat­ment and helps to provide positive outcomes.

Supportive care is a term that refers to treatment that aims to de­crease or eliminate symptoms associated with cancer. The goal of supportive care is to maximize comfort, minimize suffering, and ensure the highest quality of life. Supportive care focuses on treating cancer-related symptoms, preventing and managing treatment-related side effects, recogniz­ing and supporting psychosocial distress, and helping to develop strategies for im­proving quality of life. Comprehensive supportive care may address symptoms that occur at diagnosis and during or after treatment.

Being diagnosed with lung cancer is a life changing event that can have a pro­found effect on your physical, emotional, and psychosocial well-being. There are many symptoms and side effects asso­ciated with lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. These symptoms can inter­fere with your ability to function and perform daily activities, decreasing your quality of life, especially if symptoms are ignored and go untreated.

People with lung cancer have more unmet supportive care needs than those with other cancers.

People with lung cancer have more unmet supportive care needs than those with other cancers. Lung cancer is often associated with a heavy disease burden, but supportive care interventions can improve well-being and survival for lung cancer survivors. Intervening early may decrease unnecessary suffering and en­able you to feel strong enough to be an active participant in your own cancer care. The goal of supportive care is to provide you with the best quality of life throughout the cancer experience, en­abling you to perform daily activities and engage in activities that bring you joy and happiness.

Symptom Management
Multidisci­plinary healthcare teams are integral to ensure a holistic treatment approach, treating the whole person and not just the cancer itself. The primary treatment team includes a physician (medical on­cologist, radiation oncologist, or thoracic surgeon, depending on the course of treatment) and a primary nurse. As sup­portive care needs emerge, you may be referred to other members of the team, such as social workers, psychiatrists, pal­liative care or supportive care clinicians, or dietitians, to make further assessments and supportive care recommendations.

However, the most important mem­ber of the treatment team is you. Open communication with clinicians about any symptoms or side effects makes you a partner in your care and helps the health­care team understand and recognize the onset of side effects. A comprehensive supportive care plan with the healthcare team enables the highest possible men­tal, emotional, and physical well-being. The goal includes controlling symptoms related to the lung cancer and treatment, and concurrently providing psychosocial care to improve quality of life.

Effectively communicating any changes experienced can prevent unnecessary suffering or interruption of treatment. With the growing re­search and knowledge of these side effects, medications and self-help strategies can be recommended to help prevent symptoms before they occur. However, if new symptoms arise, effective treatments can be prescribed to help control them. It is important to know that symptoms can be managed suc­cessfully if they are addressed and treated early.

Communicating Symptoms
Com­munication is a vital part of symptom management. Symptom doc­umentation in a journal is an excellent way to participate in your care and should be an integral part of the cancer experience. Documenting the onset of new symptoms and being able to effec­tively communicate this information can have a major effect the success of treatment. Daily symptom tracking, especially while receiving treatment, can help you identify any changes in your physical, psychological, and emo­tional health. Maintaining this crucial information can help your doctors assess and manage your supportive care needs. The ability to reference and chart the progress of specific issues enables you to have an open dialogue with your team.

It’s important to prepare for, identify, and recognize symptoms early and com­municate about symptoms to decrease any unnecessary suffering or interruption in the course of treatment. Communica­tion with your treatment team can help prevent and manage symptoms and help future patients by creating a side effect profile for each specific treatment. Clinicians continue to gain a better understanding of the prevalence of specific symptoms and are developing effective strategies to better manage lung cancer symptoms.

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Excerpted with permission from Lung Cancer Choices, 3rd Edition, Copyright 2016 © Caring Ambassadors Program, Inc., lungcancercap.org

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2017.