If your lung cancer can’t be cured

Unfortunately, for many different medical reasons, sometimes people’s lung cancer can never be cured.

This news can be exceptionally difficult to hear. Some people become a bit preoccupied with the fact that, while there may appear to be so many available treatments, none is going to cure their lung cancer. It is common to go through strong feelings of blame, guilt and anger.

However, getting a incurable lung cancer diagnosis is not automatically the same as being told you have a terminal illness. Your lung cancer may be incurable, but, with good treatment and ongoing care, you can lead a relatively normal life.

With improvements in treatment and care, people are not only living longer with lung cancer, they are enjoying a better quality of life. Lung cancer symptoms can be well managed and even though your cancer can’t be cured, you may be able to live well with your condition and enjoy a good quality of life.

After I was diagnosed, people were like it’s ‘game over’ for you love! Actually, no! You can live well with lung cancer. You can live purposefully with it. I’m still me, regardless of my diagnosis.

Saima, living with incurable lung cancer

Frequently asked questions

The palliative care team is usually made up of medical and nursing staff with special skills in pain control and symptom management. They work in a variety of settings including hospitals, the community, and in specialist units such as hospices.

The main purpose of the palliative care team is to make sure that you are comfortable and ensure the best possible quality of life for both you and your family.

Yes, the palliative care nurse works closely with your GP and district nurse to ensure that you get the best possible care and support in your own home.

This will mean that you have easier access to a greater number of specialist services that may include day care, inpatient care and pain clinics.

These services are to complement, not replace, the support given to you at home.

If you have not been offered this service and would like a palliative care nurse to visit you, speak to your GP or hospital doctor.

Yes, this service is usually provided by agencies such as Marie Curie Cancer Care. These nurses can stay with you overnight to give physical and emotional support.

This may also allow your carer some time to rest. Speak to your district nurse or GP to find out who provides this service in your area.

Many people with lung cancer become breathless. This can be a very frightening sensation and it is understandable if you feel panicky.

However, there are some ways in which you can help yourself, such as opening a window or using a fan.

Your doctor or nurse may refer you to a physiotherapist or occupational therapist who will help you learn some relaxation techniques.

If necessary your doctor may also prescribe medicine to help calm and relax you.

Not necessarily. However, if you do have pain then it will be controlled by using a variety of different treatments. These may include palliative chemotherapy/radiotherapy, as well as strong medicines or perhaps complementary therapies such as acupuncture.

It is important to tell your doctor or nurse if you are experiencing any pain.

You might feel frightened about taking morphine as it is sometimes thought of as being linked to death and addiction. This is not true – it is a very useful painkiller and can also help reduce breathlessness.

You should still be able to carry out most day to day activities such as driving. However, morphine can at times make you drowsy, especially when you first start taking it. Do not drive if you feel at all drowsy.

For many people, a diagnosis of lung cancer may mean that life will never be the same again. Remember, death is an inevitable end result for all of us, but something which we rarely consider.

You may find that for the first time in your life you start to think about what the future holds and the possibility of death.

Many people find it helpful to get things in order. These issues can be very difficult to consider. However, you might find that making plans and discussing them with your family and friends can be helpful and allow you to get on with living.

Being told that you have a terminal disease may provide an opportunity to plan for death in a way that someone who dies suddenly is unable to.

The truthful answer is that nobody really knows. It depends on many factors, such as what type of lung cancer you have and how well the cancer responds to palliative treatment.

Based on their past experience, doctors can sometimes make an estimate. However, doctors can sometimes get this wrong.

Help and advice will be given for you to plan for death in the place of your choice.

It is possible for care and support to be given at home, in hospital or in a hospice.

It is important that you discuss your wishes with your family and all those involved in your care.

If you have had a diagnosis of incurable lung cancer and are finding it hard to accept, speak to your doctor or lung cancer nurse specialist.

There are also many other healthcare professionals able to help you, your family and others involved in your care and support through this potentially difficult time. Marie Curie Cancer Care, for example, is an organisation which provides nursing and hospice support for patients, carers and families.