If you or your loved one has received a diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer, you may feel anxious, angry, overwhelmed, confused, and so many other emotions.
Allow yourself to feel all these things. You have the right to feel them. Metastatic lung cancer is a serious diagnosis. All of a sudden, your life is different. The good news is, you can win against this disease.
We begin by understanding it. And then, later on, we learn ways to fight it.
What is metastatic lung cancer?
Metastatic lung cancer, or stage IV lung cancer, means cancer that began in your lungs has already spread to other parts of your body.
In fact, it is usually at this very late stage that lung cancer is detected because, in its earlier stages, there are many cases when lung cancer does not show serious symptoms.
The parts of the body to which lung cancer often spreads are the adrenal glands, the bones, and the brain.
Guidance for Patients
When it comes to fighting cancer, time is your enemy. You need to act fast:
1. Choose a companion. Begin by allowing a trusted loved one to take the journey with you as your caregiver. Your doctor will be giving you instructions, and you may have trouble focusing on the doctor’s words. Having someone with you to help you remember is going to be useful.
2. Manage your emotions. Emotions can be crippling, so it is important to control them instead of letting them control you.
It may help you process your emotions and regain control by putting your thoughts in a journal.
It is also a good idea to find a trained counselor who knows exactly what to say, when to talk, and when to just listen. As much as you may want to pour your heart out to friends and family, there is a danger that somebody who is not trained may give you bad advice or say things that leave you feeling worse than before.
3. Find a doctor you can reasonably trust.2 Your doctor plays a major role in your cancer journey and survival. Look for a doctor who will listen to your concerns, explain in terms you can understand what you have and the treatment options available. Your doctor should be someone whom you feel you can trust. He/she might have all the credentials, but if your chemistry with the doctor isn’t positive, consider taking a second opinion with another doctor.
IMPORTANT: In case you decide to look for a doctor that your original physician did not recommend, make sure you find a doctor who is a licensed oncologist specializing in lung cancer.
4. Ask questions. The American Lung Association recommends that you ask the following questions:
Will you test my tumor for molecular markers? This is important to determine which of the many lung cancer treatment options is best for you.
Is a clinical trial right for me? Clinical trials are very carefully designed and monitored scientific studies for assessing the safety and efficacy of new drugs to be used on humans. These drugs have already been proven to be reasonably safe and effective in animals.
In humans, the drug may cause unexpected adverse events. Doctors are specifically alert to these events and will immediately manage them or, if necessary, stop you from continuing with the study treatment.
Conversely, the drug may save your life in a way no other currently marketed drug can.
When you take part in a clinical trial, you will be in the hands of experts in the kind of cancer you have. You will receive treatment for free. And you will be playing an important role in helping the world discover new ways to save lives.
It will be to your advantage if there is a clinical trial looking for people like you near your location. Your doctor will know where to look for these clinical trials, so be sure to ask.
Can I meet with a palliative care specialist? Palliative care is not just for dying people. It is also for people who need counseling, pain management, and side effect management.
Every help you get will increase your chances of living a longer and more comfortable life. So ask about palliative care.
What are the goals of the treatments you’ve recommended? It is important that you understand the “why” of everything your doctor recommends. This will help you adhere to the treatment better and will definitely improve your chances of treatment success.
What should I do if I have questions or concerns? Remember that your doctor is in charge of many, many other patients as well.
By asking for the best way to contact your doctor – whether by phone call, email, or text – you know that when they answer your questions, they are at the best frame of mind possible.
When somebody tells you that a treatment is supported by scientific research, make sure to look for that research. Make sure it has been published by a reputable medical journal because this is the best proof that the study was done the right way. Make sure the study was done on humans because the effects of a drug in a test tube or on animals cannot be used as a basis for how it will affect human patients.
Today, breakthrough treatment options namely immunotherapy and targeted therapy are now available that cause less severe side effects compared with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Immunotherapy boosts the immune system’s capacity to fight cancer cells. Also, it has been observed to give the body a natural ability to keep fighting cancer even after the treatment is no longer being received by the patient.
Targeted therapy, on the other hand, makes use of drugs to more precisely identify and attack cancer cells. Cancer cells typically have many changes in their genes that make them different from normal cells. Targeted therapy focuses on the specific areas of the abnormal cells that allow them to grow and divide irregularly.
In battling cancer, there is no “one size fits all” treatment strategy because regimens differ depending on a patient’s cancer type, stage and medical oncologists’ understanding of the patient’s cancer cells based on diagnostic results.8
Having open communication with your doctor and surrounding yourself with caregivers and loved ones will make a huge difference in your cancer journey leading to survival. Have hope and keep on fighting.
1. Popper HH. Progression and metastasis of lung cancer. Cancer Metastasis Rev.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4821869/ 2016;35:75–91. Accessed Feb 18 2019
2. Cancer Diagnosis? Advice on Dealing with What Comes Next. Mayo Clinic.
3. Coping with Cancer: Feelings and Cancer. National Cancer Institute.
https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/feelings Accessed February 18, 2019.
4. Top 5 questions for your lung cancer doctor. American Lung Association.
a. http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/lung-health/5-questions-for-your-lung-cancerdoctor.pdf. Updated November 20, 2018. Accessed February 18, 2019.
5. What Are Clinical Trials?. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/aboutcancer/treatment/clinical-trials/what-are-trials Accessed 24 April 2019.
6. Dimberu PM, Leonhardt RF. Cancer immunotherapy takes a multi-faceted approach to kick the immune system into gear. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3238317/ Yale J Biol Med. 2011;84:371–380.
7. American Cancer Society. What is Targeted Cancer Therapy.
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