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How to cope with side effects from lung cancer treatment

side effects from lung cancer

When you or a family member begins treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), you may experience side effects from lung cancer treatments that you’ve never experienced before. The course of treatment that you and your oncologist choose is based on your NSCLC diagnosis, cancer stage, and health history. Preparing for potential side effects can cause more unwanted emotional stress, but it’s still important to weigh the benefits against the risks and to then be proactive and prepared for what might happen once you start treatment. 

Following are a few of the most common side effects and suggestions for how to cope throughout treatment.


Lung Cancer Treatment Side Effects

Fatigue: You’re going through a lot and should expect to be tired, so get as much rest as possible, before and after each treatment. Make a Spotify playlist or try the Calm meditation app to manage any anxiety during treatment or help you unwind or support healthy sleep habits. 

Nausea or Diarrhea: Chemotherapy helps kill cancer cells but the drugs involved can upset the balance of bacteria that helps you digest properly. Try lowering your intake of fat, sugar, and processed foods regardless of the treatment you and your care team choose, drink plenty of clear liquids, and ask about probiotics or potential changes to your medication. SOURCE 

Additionally, make sure to take any prescribed pre-medications or as-needed medications to help with nausea. The key to controlling chemotherapy-related nausea or vomiting is prevention. Remember to notify your doctor’s office right away if you are experiencing these side effects so that they can help you get them under control.

Loss of Appetite: When you’re nauseous, you might eat less food, but try and stock up on bland foods such as crackers, bread, steamed veggies, and soft fruits, and make sure to drink electrolytes if you’re not eating to avoid dehydration or malnutrition. SOURCE

Itchy Skin or Rash: A rash or itchy skin as a side effect can appear within a few weeks of starting lung cancer treatment. Try washing the itchy skin with warm water and gentle soap, pat the area dry and apply a fragrance-free moisturizer. Try to avoid harsh chemicals and talk to your oncologist about taking acetaminophen, vitamin B6, a topical or oral corticosteroid, or vitamin E ointment. SOURCE 

Notify your oncologist’s office right away if you do experience a rash, as it can be a sign of an allergic reaction.

Joint Pain: Whether it’s joint or muscle pain, finding new ways to relax can reduce tension. Try deep breathing to help your body relax, read a book, watch a movie or visit with friends or family. When you’re in pain, your first response may be to retreat, but try to spend time with the people who care about you instead. Chair yoga or gentle restorative yoga can also be beneficial and many cancer centers offer this specifically for cancer patients.


Surgery Side Effects

Acute Pain: Think about keeping a pain journal to keep track of how you’re feeling, and share it with your care team during appointments. You can find one on our free Outcomes4Me app. It’s important to be able to articulate the pain you’re feeling, when, and under what circumstances. Be very vocal about your pain so your care team can help you manage it.

Cough, Sore Throat or Difficulty Breathing: After having lung surgery, there will be tubes coming out of your chest to drain extra fluid or air. Once they’re removed, you’ll need to keep doing deep breathing and coughing exercises as part of your recovery, even if you find them painful.  SOURCE

If you feel you’re experiencing rare side effects during or after treatment, it’s important that you contact your oncology care team immediately or call 911. 

If you have questions about your treatment options, side effects or symptoms, you can connect with an Outcomes4Me oncology nurse practitioner at no charge through the Outcomes4Me app, using the “Ask Outcomes4Me” button.

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