Coping with advanced lung cancer

There is support available to help you cope with emotional, practical and physical issues when you have advanced lung cancer.

Advanced cancer means cancer that can’t be cured. It might have come back after your original treatment or have spread to other areas of the body.

Treatment can often control the cancer and relieve symptoms. Your doctors and nurses will help you to make the most of life and feel as good as possible for as long as possible.

How you might feel

Finding out that you can’t be cured is distressing and can be a shock. It’s common to feel uncertain and anxious. It's normal to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you, your family and friends. Some people find it helpful to find out more about their cancer and the treatments they might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

    Talk to your doctor or nurse to understand:

    • what your diagnosis means
    • what is likely to happen
    • what treatment is available
    • how treatment can help you

    Talking about advanced cancer

    Your friends and relatives might be able to support you and talk to you about your cancer. Sharing can help to increase trust and support between you and make it easier to plan ahead. But some families are scared of the emotions this could bring up. So they may not want to discuss it. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

    It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. You can help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to discuss what’s happening and how you feel.

    You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family.

    Counselling might help you find ways of coping with your feelings and emotions. You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.


    Thinking about your priorities and planning what you want to do can help you to feel more in control. You might want to talk about how you want to spend your time and what is and isn’t important to you.

    Some of your future plans might no longer be realistic. But you might get round to doing something you always wanted to do but weren’t able to make time for.

    Coping physically

    You might notice that you’re feeling breathless more than usual or for a lot of the time. You might feel out of breath after your normal day to day activities or from climbing a short flight of stairs.

    Feeling breathless is a problem for some people. This can be quite distressing. You can have oxygen at home. Treatments or medicines can also help you to breathe more easily.

    A build up of fluid around the lung is called a pleural effusion. Tell your doctor if you have any difficulty breathing or chest pain. Draining the fluid can help you to breathe more easily.

    Emotional and physical changes can affect your relationships and sex life.

    Towards the end of life

    It’s natural to want to find out what is likely to happen in the last few weeks or days of life.

    You might need to choose where you want to be looked after and who you want to care for you.

    You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses if you have questions or want to talk about coping with advanced cancer. Call free on 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

    You might also feel very tired and lacking in energy a lot of the time.

    Difficulty eating and swallowing is a problem for some people. This can cause weight loss.

    You might have swollen hands or feet or a swollen tummy (abdomen). This can make you feel uncomfortable. Speak to your symptom control nurse if you find this a problem.

    Feeling as well as you can

    It is important that you feel as well as you possibly can. Tell your doctor or nurse about any symptoms you have so they can help to control them.

    Coping financially

    You might have extra expenses due to the cancer. Your specialist nurse or GP can help you get grants for heating costs, holidays or household expenses related to your illness.

    Ask to see a social worker. They can let you know which benefits or grants you can claim and help with the claiming process.  

    Who can help?

    You can get emotional and practical support through your hospital, local hospice and GP practice. You can also get help from charities and support groups.

    The British Lung Foundation gives information on all forms of lung conditions including living with advanced lung cancer. They run support groups across the country.

    You can phone their helpline to talk to someone on 03000 030 555, from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

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