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Recurrent Lung Cancer and Treatment Options

When your lung cancer continues to progress, or when it comes back after one mode of treatment, it is potentially still possible to try another treatment plan. This plan may not necessarily cure the cancer, but may at least provide you with longer life and/or relief of symptoms. When you have tried a number of different treatments, however, and the cancer has still shown no improvement, it tends to become resistant to all treatment. At this point, you must make important decisions as to the limited benefits that may be derived from trying another treatment versus the risks of a diminished quality of life.

If it is your wish to continue treatment for as long as possible, you need to have realistic expectations regarding what might be gained or lost. Your doctor may be able to give you some insight into how likely your lung cancer is to respond to a new treatment you are considering. If he/she thinks your chances are 1 in 100, you might still be tempted to try, but you should also understand your reasons for making this choice. At some point, you may need to consider that additional treatment is unlikely to change your outcome.

No matter what your decision, you need to feel as good as you can for as long as you can. Make sure your doctor is aware of any symptoms you are experiencing, i.e., nausea, pain, etc., so that these issues can be addressed. This type of treatment, which is based on symptom control, is called palliative care. Palliative care can be given in combination with cancer treatment, or may even be cancer treatment -- the difference is its purpose.

In some cases, palliative care means taking drugs that can help with a symptom such as pain, but sometimes the treatments used to relieve pain may be the same as those used to aggressively treat the cancer. For instance, radiation might be used to help relieve bone pain caused by lung cancer that has spread to the bone, or chemotherapy might be used to help shrink a tumor that is blocking the bowels. The difference lies in the intent of the treatment; symptom relief versus trying to achieve a cure.

At some point, you may benefit from hospice care, a special type of care that treats the person rather than the disease, and focuses on quality rather than quantity of life. Primarily given at home, hospice concerns itself with your comfort by addressing problems that arise as a result of your lung cancer. This doesn’t mean you can’t be treated for symptoms caused by your cancer or any other health conditions you might have, but it does often mean the end of treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.

Even once you come to terms with the fact that a cure may not possible or that treatments are no longer keeping your cancer under control, there is still reason for hope. This can be a time to refocus on the people and things that are important in your life, and to discard the baggage. Have good times with family and friends; do something you’ve always wanted to do, and stop doing the things that are no longer meaningful. Your lung cancer may be beyond your control, but you are still in control of your choices.