Supportive Care for Lung Cancer Survivors
by Christie Pratt-Pozo, MA, DHSC
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.
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.
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.