Stage 4 Lung Cancer Treatment
Lung cancer is a very difficult to treat condition. This is particularly true if it is mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure. All cancers are rated on a scale of stages 1 to 4, with 4 being the most advanced stage. At this point, it is usually no longer possible to cure the patient, and palliative care is offered instead.
Exact treatment for stage 4 lung cancer depends on the overall physical condition of the patient, the type of lung cancer, and its current stage. Each type of lung cancer, whether small cell or non-small cell, is treated differently. The treatment during the previous stages of lung cancer also vary tremendously.
How Lung Cancer Treatment Is Planned
Once you receive a diagnosis of any form of lung cancer, you will have a team of medical professionals on board to determine the type of treatment most suitable at every stage of the condition. Some of the things that will determine the right treatment for your needs include:
- Where in the lung the cancer is located
- The type of lung cancer your suffer from
- Your overall general health at present
- How far the cancer has spread and where to
- What your scans and blood test results say
- What you want
It is possible that you meet people who seemingly have the same type of cancer as you, but whose treatment is very difficult. This can be due to a variety of reasons, but mainly that at least one of the above items is different with them. Either way, you must see your illness as an individual condition that must be treated as such. What matters is what is suitable to your needs.
You may, depending on when your cancer was discovered, already have had chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery. Some people have all these treatments, while others have just one, and still others have none. You may also have taken part in clinical trials, testing treatment options such as immunotherapy and biological therapy.
Treatment for Lung Cancer
Once you have reached stage 4, whether it is small cell lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer or mesothelioma, the treatment will mainly be about keeping the cancer under control. If possible, medical professionals will try to shrink the tumor, which means symptoms can also be reduced. There are quite a few trials in which chemotherapy has been used at stage 4, and this has been shown to improve people’s quality of life by relieving their symptoms to some degree.
A number of biological therapy drugs are also available for people who have the right type of proteins, which is usually only present in non-small cell lung cancer. These drugs include Xalkori, Iressa, and Tarceva.
Once you have had chemotherapy, and if you find that it no longer controls the cancer, further chemotherapy may be provided to you. However, a physician will have to determine that you are well enough for this. You may also be provided with further erlotinib treatment. You are also entitled to say that you want no further treatment, although most people will choose to have at least something that helps them control their various symptoms.
Radiotherapy is also possible, particularly to help you control your coughs and pains. Other types of treatment can also be beneficial to help you reduce your symptoms and relieve blockages, particularly if your tumor is in the left or right bronchus, which are the main airways. Some of the treatments that could be available include:
- Brachytherapy or internal radiotherapy
- Cryotherapy, or freezing the tumor
- Laser treatment
- Stenting the airway with a rigid tube in order to ensure the airway remains open
- PDT (photodynamic therapy), or light therapy
The most important thing is that you have a multidisciplinary team of people on your side to help provide you with the best possible care. This team will be made up of various health professionals who work with you and each other in order to ensure you receive the best possible care and treatment. Besides yourself, this team of multidisciplinary professionals will generally include:
- Medical oncologists, who specialize in cancer treatment drugs
- Specialist surgeons
- Chest condition specialists
- Symptom control specialist
- Clinical oncologists, who specialize in chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment
- Lung cancer nurses
- Histopathologists, who specialize in taking tissue specimens and making a diagnosis
- Occupational therapists
- Social workers
Discussing Your Treatment Options
When you find out that you have stage 4 lung cancer or mesothelioma, you will have to cope with a very negative prognosis. This can be an overwhelming time for both you and your loved ones, as you will all feel bewildered and scared. To top it off, you are likely to feel significantly unwell. This is why, when you do get to see your doctor, you may feel as if you don’t know what to ask.
This is where your multidisciplinary team comes in. You will have ample opportunities to talk to those who understand what you are going through and what you may need to be explained to you. It is also recommended that you write down any questions that you come up with, so that you do not forget them. You will have multiple appointments with the various professionals, so you will have plenty of opportunities to ask questions.
It is very important that you listen to the specialists and understand the treatment that they recommend. Just because they recommend a particular treatment, however, does not mean that you need to agree with it. This is your life and end of life care that is being discussed and you are well within your rights to say that you choose not to have a certain type of treatment. Although you will be asked for your reasons why, you don’t have to be able to provide these if you don’t want to. Just make sure that you learn about the pros and cons of each type of treatment that is available to you, and only you can decide if and when the advantages outweigh the risks.
You must give consent for any type of treatment, or it will not be provided to you. If, for instance, a treatment has negative side effects and the chances of it being effective are very small, you may choose not to have it so that you can enjoy whatever time you have left in a reasonable quality of life. If you do receive a diagnosis of lung cancer or mesothelioma, you may also want to discuss your wishes before your cancer reaches stage 4. There is a possibility that, once you reach that stage, you will no longer be able to properly express yourself, which means that you have to have your wishes known beforehand.
When you have appointments to discuss your treatment, you are always allowed to bring support with you. This could be a friend or family member, a social worker, or anyone else. You also never have to take a decision on the spot, and you are always allowed to take the information with you to think about things. If you ever feel pressured to make a decision, tell your doctor about this so that they are aware of your concerns.
Similarly, you are entitled to ask for a second opinion. In fact, you can also request for a third or even fourth opinion if you want to. You can research the different specialists yourself or even ask your current doctor for a referral. Receiving a stage 4 diagnosis is life changing, and it is normal to want to have this type of diagnosis confirmed.
There are also many support groups available for people with lung cancer and mesothelioma. These groups exist in hospitals, medical centers, community centers, schools, and even online. While these groups cannot provide any form of medical treatment, they can help you with support in terms of mental health support. Additionally, they may be able to point you in the direction of different specialists and have information on how well or poorly certain types of treatments work. Most importantly, however, it is a chance to spend time with people who truly understand what you are going through.