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Lung cancer

Lung cancer can affect your daily life in different ways, depending on what stage it's at and the treatment you're having.

Breathlessness

Breathlessness is common in people who have lung cancer, whether it is a symptom of the condition or a side effect of treatment.

In many cases, breathlessness can be improved with some simple measures such as:

  • breathing in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth (after treatment for lung cancer, you may see a physiotherapist, who can teach you some simple breathing exercises)
  • making daily activities easier – for example, using a trolley when you go shopping or keeping things you often need downstairs so you don't need to regularly walk up and down the stairs
  • using a fan to direct cool air towards your face
  • eating smaller and more frequent meals, and taking smaller mouthfuls

If measures like these aren't enough to control your breathlessness, you may need further treatment. There are a number of medications that can help improve breathlessness. Home oxygen treatment may be an option in more severe cases.

If your breathlessness is caused by another condition, such as a chest infection or a fluid build-up around the lungs (a pleural effusion), treating this underlying cause may help your breathing.

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Pain

Some people with lung cancer have pain, while others never have any. About one in three people who are treated for cancer experience some pain.

Pain isn't related to the severity of the cancer  it varies from person to person. What causes cancer pain isn’t thoroughly understood, but there are ways of treating it so the pain can be controlled.

People with advanced lung cancer may need treatment for pain as their cancer progresses. This can be part of palliative care (see below), and is often provided by doctors, nurses and other members of the palliative care team. You can have palliative care at home, in hospital, in a hospice or other care centre.

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Emotional effects and relationships

Having cancer can lead to a range of emotions. These may include shock, anxiety, relief, sadness and depression.

People deal with serious problems in different ways. It's hard to predict how living with cancer will affect you.

Being open and honest about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help you may put others at ease. But don't feel shy about telling people that you need some time to yourself, if that's what you need.

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Talk to others

Your GP or specialist nurse may be able to reassure you if you have questions, or you may find it helpful to talk to a trained counsellor, psychologist or specialist phone helpline. Your GP surgery will have information on these.

You may find it helpful to talk about your experience of lung cancer with others in a similar position at a local support group. Patient organisations have local groups where you can meet other people who have been diagnosed with lung cancer and had treatment.

If you have feelings of depression, talk to your GP  they can provide advice and support.

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Money and financial support

If you have to reduce or stop work because of cancer, you may find it hard to cope financially. If you have cancer or you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to financial support.

  • If you have a job but can't work because of your illness, you are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer.
  • If you don't have a job and can't work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance.
  • If you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to Carer’s Allowance.
  • You may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or you have a low household income.

It's a good idea to find out early on what help is available to you. You could ask to speak to the social worker at your hospital, who can give you the information you need.

Free prescriptions

People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate giving free prescriptions for all medication, including treatment for unrelated conditions.

The certificate is valid for five years and you can apply for a certificate by speaking to your GP or cancer specialist.

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Palliative care

If you have a lot of symptoms caused by lung cancer, your GP and healthcare team will need to give you support and pain relief. This is called palliative care. Support is also available for your family and friends.

As your cancer progresses, your doctor should work with you to establish a clear management plan based on your (and your carer's) wishes. This includes whether you'd prefer to go to hospital, a hospice, or be looked after at home as you become progressively more ill.

It will take account of what services are available to you locally, what's clinically advisable and your personal circumstances.

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