What to Expect from Stage 4 Lung Cancer

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Stage 4 lung cancer patients must contend with their own mortality while simultaneously ensuring that their family will be provided for after their passing. A diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer can be terrifying, but it is important to understand what the diagnosis means and what steps you can take after being diagnosed.

Symptoms

  • In Stage 4, the cancer has spread from the lungs to other parts in the body, most often the liver, brain or even the bones. In Stages 3A and 3B, the cancer has spread to the chest, lymph nodes, heart or esophagus. Symptoms include fluid in the chest, general weakness and diminished appetite.

Treatment Options

  • Various treatment options exist, although many patients elect to forgo treatment in their final months to avoid compounding the pain of the cancer with the pain of the treatment. Treatment options include radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy. Surgery is not usually recommended; it is invasive and many patients will not have the strength to recover.

Prognosis

  • Lung cancer patients who have entered Stage 4 are often told they may only have months to live, with the average survival time being around eight months. Fewer than 10 percent of Stage 4 lung cancer patients live more than five years after being diagnosed. Five-year survival rates can be increased with surgery, in some cases up to 40 percent. If the patient is under age 30 and has cancer that can be removed with surgery, the five-year survival rate can approach 85 percent.

Specialists and Clinical Trials

  • Working with specialists or enrolling in clinical trials may help to prolong a Stage 4 lung cancer patient's life. You will need to work with your physician to find a clinical trial for which you may be eligible. For a list of lung cancer specialists, see Resources. You can also have your doctor refer you to a specialist who is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) or the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

Final Preparations

  • For your peace of mind, make sure your estate is in order and that you have created a will and an advance directive. An advance directive is a document that will ensure that should you fall into a persistent vegetative state, your wishes will be fulfilled with regard to resuscitation. You will want to get in touch a lawyer who specializes in estate planning; you can find this information in your local Yellow Pages.

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