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Early Palliative Care Eases Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Early Palliative Care Eases Symptoms of Lung Cancer
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Published on June 8, 2020

Patients who have stage IV cancer can be treated in many different ways to alleviate symptoms. Stage IV means that the tumors have spread—it’s in the lymph nodes and may have spread to other organs. Although this stage is not curable, there are ways to prolong a person’s life and to give them a better quality of life.

Palliative radiation, for example, can lead to less tumor burden and, in some cases, less pain. When a patient is feeling better physically, this can be a boost for their mental and emotional health, too. 

Making Every Day Count

Dr. Divya Yerramilli, a radiation oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, is a champion for her patients and recommends palliative care early on. It’s driven by the patient’s goals, which may be quality of life, extending life or both. Getting supportive care early on in treatment can lead to better outcomes for patients, often giving them the gift of time.

“Palliative care initiated at the time of diagnosis prolongs people’s lives,” Dr. Yerramilli said of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.1 

“Palliative treatment means focusing on symptoms, and that has the potential to improve quality of life, no matter what your treatment goals are,” Dr.  Yerramilli added. 

The study showed that patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who received palliative care early after diagnosis reported significant improvements in quality of life. Patients also reported an improvement in mood, which was attributed to feeling better physically with less symptom burden.

Specifically, treatment to the spine and brain can help patients function cognitively, and that impacts a patient’s “quality of life and their ability to interact with the world,” Dr.  Yerramilli said.

Tracking Symptoms

Another interesting study focused on patients reporting symptom burden, such as pain in a specific area or trouble breathing. The study explained how tracking symptoms can help the care team decide when palliative care may help alleviate them.2

If you or a loved one is a patient, it is a good idea to keep a journal of symptoms that you can share with your medical team to show how you are feeling physically and mentally. Over time, you will begin to see trends.

You may have questions about the various treatment options, and perhaps clinical trials, that are available to you as a patient with lung cancer. You are likely to be referred to a radiation oncologist as part of your treatment plan, and your treatment may coincide with other therapies to make you as comfortable as possible. 

Getting a second opinion after a cancer diagnosis is also important. Cancer care is a team science, and having all the information at hand will help you and your team develop the best treatment plan for you. 

 ~Lauren Evoy Davis 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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  1. Temel J, et al. Early Palliative Care for Patients with Metastatic Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer. N Engl J Med. 2010; 363:733-742.
  2. Basch E, et al. Symptom Monitoring With Patient-Reported Outcomes During Routine Cancer Treatment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Clin Oncol. 2016 Feb 20; 34(6): 557–565.


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