What does my lung cancer diagnosis mean for me?
After being told you have lung cancer, you may wonder what your prognosis (the likely outcome or course of your disease) will be — what this diagnosis means for your future and your health. You may see estimates of how long a person may live after a particular type or stage of lung cancer is diagnosed and assume that this is what will happen to you. Try not to think this way. Remember:
1. You are not a statistic. Statistics cannot predict what will happen to you. You are a unique individual and no one can predict exactly how your body will respond to your lung cancer and treatment. Lung cancer statistics estimate the average survival for all people with a specific type and stage of lung cancer.
2. Lung cancer statistics are based on information from studies that were done from 3-10 years ago. Today’s newer therapies have not been around long enough to affect the statistics, so your prognosis may be far more hopeful than the statistics suggest.
The chances of being cured of lung cancer depend mostly on the stage of lung cancer you have. Early-stage cancer is the easiest to treat and has the best chance of being cured. If the cancer has spread to other places in the body, the goal of treatment is to keep the cancer under control for as long as possible.
If you have read or are told that your cancer cannot be cured, remember that incurable cancer can be treated and may be stabilized. Newer treatments are helping some lung cancer patients live good, meaningful lives for years after their diagnosis.
What are my treatment choices?
Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, targeted therapies and immunotherapy are the main treatment options for lung cancer. However, a number of factors can affect which treatments will be best for you; these factors include your cancer’s particular type and stage; location; and genetic or other molecular characteristics.
Promising new treatments may be available through clinical trials, so be sure to ask your doctor about these options. You and your doctor should discuss clinical trials as an initial treatment option.
How long will my treatment last?
The length of your treatment will depend on the type and stage of lung cancer you have and how well you respond to treatment. Your treatment plan will be explained to you before therapy begins. If you have questions, be sure to ask your doctor or care team.
You will receive regular check-ups to see how your treatment is working. If your cancer does not respond to the first treatment you receive, your doctor may discuss other treatment options with you.
How much will treatment cost? How do I find out what my insurance covers?
The costs of your lung cancer treatment will depend on the treatments you need and whether you get them at home, in a clinic or in a hospital. For example, most health insurance policies, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover the majority of the costs of chemotherapy. Targeted therapies are sometimes covered differently than other treatments, and may require higher out-of-pocket costs. Assistance programs may be available to help pay for your treatments.
Cancer centers and most hospitals have patient assistance departments that should be able to help you find out what your insurance will cover and whether you qualify for assistance.
Should I consider joining a clinical trial?
Clinical trials are research studies that measure how well new drugs, treatments or tests work, or help doctors learn more about cancer or other diseases. Many patients feel they get more attention, more care and more frequent check-ups if they participate in a clinical trial. Trials are generally available for every stage and type of lung cancer, although every individual may not be eligible for a given trial.
Many patients fear they will receive a placebo (non-active pills, injections, etc.) if they participate in a trial. When placebos are used in a trial, patients almost always receive them in addition to standard, proven treatments. Patients are ALWAYS fully informed if they join a trial where they may receive a placebo.
To get help by phone, call the Lung Cancer Support Line toll-free Monday through Friday at (844) 835-4325.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a word for drugs that kill or slow the growth of cancer cells, usually by disrupting how the cells divide. Chemotherapy is based on the principle that cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than normal cells. However, because some normal cells (hair cells, for example) also grow and divide, chemotherapy can sometimes kill those cells as well.
What are targeted therapies?
Targeted cancer therapies are treatments or drugs that specifically interfere with the ways cancer cells, and not normal cells, survive, grow and spread. These drugs “target” specific molecules (genes, proteins, etc.) in the tumor cells. Targeted therapies are more specific to cancer cells than chemotherapy, and usually cause less damage to normal cells than chemotherapy. Not all tumors have the same abnormal targets, so your doctor may take a sample of your tumor and run tests (often called comprehensive biomarker testing) to try to match the most effective treatment for your cancer. You should ask your doctor about whether such testing is appropriate for you.
What is immunotherapy?
Immunotherapies are treatments that boost a person’s own immune system to fight cancer. Immunotherapies have become a breakthrough in the treatment of several types of cancer, including lung cancer.