Lung Cancer: Lifestyle Management

Reviewed by Bronwyn Long, DNP, MBA, RN, Jeffrey Kern, MD, Laurie L. Carr, MD

Living with lung cancer is a unique and special challenge that you and your family must deal with on a daily basis. However, the more you know about lung cancer, the better suited you will be in managing lung cancer.

As you take steps toward managing lung cancer, your quality of life may improve. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about your plan. Write down any questions you have about managing lung cancer and ask your healthcare provider at your next appointment. People often have concerns about a number of common symptoms including pain and dyspnea or shortness of breath.


Managing Pain

Pain can occur with lung cancer, but pain can be relieved and controlled. Pain can occur from the cancer, procedures, surgery and the general muscle aches, headaches, soreness everyone can get. If you are experiencing pain it is important to discuss your pain with your healthcare provider. When you talk with him or her, describe what the pain feels like, what makes the pain worse and what seems to help the pain. This is very helpful in determining the best treatment or combination or treatments for your pain.

Medication may be prescribed on a regular basis to control the pain or as needed with the first feeling of pain. Medication tends to be more effective when given at the first sign of pain, rather than waiting until the pain is worse.

In addition to medications, other treatments may be helpful. Relaxation techniques, biofeedback, physical therapy, hot and/or cold packs, exercise and massage can all be helpful. In addition, support from family, friends and a support group can be helpful.


Managing Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath is a common symptom of lung cancer and lung disease. Breathing techniques and oxygen therapy can be helpful.

Breathing Techniques: Breathing techniques can help you move air in and out of your lungs more easily. This will help your shortness of breath. It will also help you think of your breathing and relax. Pursed-lip breathing is one breathing technique. To do pursed-lip breathing:

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose with your mouth closed. Try to breathe in a normal amount of air.

  • Purse your lips lightly, like you are going to whistle.

  • Exhale slowly through your mouth. Breathe out for twice as long as your breathe in.

Oxygen Therapy - If your lungs cannot transfer enough oxygen into the blood, oxygen therapy may be needed. Oxygen therapy is used to assure that there is enough oxygen in the blood to provide for the body's needs during sleep, rest and activity. Oxygen therapy can also help you feel less short of breath and you will be able to be more active. If you need oxygen therapy your healthcare provider will prescribe oxygen therapy. You will be instructed in how to use oxygen therapy correctly.

Managing Fluid Around the Lungs - Fluid may collect between the chest wall and the lung (pleural space). This can cause shortness of breath or trouble breathing. This fluid can be drained to relieve shortness of breath using a needle placed through the chest wall and into the fluid collection. Sometimes for large fluid collections, or if the fluid returns, a catheter is placed to drain the fluid, and it may be left in place to remove fluid as it collects in the pleural space.


Healthy Lifestyle

Successfully managing lung cancer is important for everyone. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Exercise regularly as directed by your health care provider. You may feel general fatigue due to the lung cancer and treatment. Your exercise program can be modified based on how you are feeling. A physical therapist can be very helpful when planning an exercise program, learning breathing techniques and addressing non-medication pain management strategies.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of fluid. Ask your healthcare provider about being seen by a registered dietitian. A registered dietitian can be helpful when thinking of strategies to address the nutrition issues related to lung cancer and treatment.

  • Give up smoking and avoid exposure to passive smoke. Ask your healthcare provider for techniques to help you give up smoking.

  • Get a flu shot every year in the fall. Get a pneumococcal vaccine every 5 to 6 years as recommended by your healthcare provider.

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