The title of this column isn't exactly accurate. I'm not writing tonight about symptoms that are only found in people with advanced lung cancer, but rather symptoms that might be more common in the late stages of lung cancer than, say, the advanced stages of another type of cancer such as breast cancer.
A new study looked at people with different types of cancer to answer the question, "what is special about patients with advanced lung cancer" from a symptom standpoint?
But first. Why is this question important?
When it comes to palliative care for advanced cancers, we tend to treat everyone - that is people with different types of cancer - essentially the same. I'm not saying that in a negative sense. Hopefully everyone with late stage cancer is given loving individual care. But same in the sense that we treat the common symptoms of advanced cancer - pain, weakness, shortness of breath, fatigue -in a similar fashion regardless of the specific cancer diagnosis.
Yet knowing what symptoms may be more common may help as you and or your loved ones ask those difficult questions about how to manage late stage symptoms.
For people with lung cancer, it's not surprising that shortness of breath was more common than it was for people with other cancer types. But confusion was also a symptom that posed more concern among those with lung cancer. More common, and also difficult to manage.
This is good for physicians to be aware of as they care for you or your loved one, but what does this mean for you?
As you talk with your palliative care or hospice care team it might help to address these two symptoms specifically in addition to other symptoms. How can you manage confusion? What might make it worse or make it better? What options are available? Being able to anticipate this common symptom with an action plan in place may go a long way in reducing the anxiety loved ones experience in an already very difficult time.
Alt-Epping, B. et al. What Is Special about Patients with Lung Cancer and Pulmonary Metastases in Palliative Care? Results from a Nationwide Survery. Journal of Palliative Care Medicine. 2012 Jun 25. (Epub ahead of print).