23 posts tagged “lung cancer”

Speaking out for Lung Cancer Awareness Month: “We’ve got to get rid of the stigma”

Posted November 14th, 2017 by

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and we’re sharing members’ encounters with stigma and the automatic association with smoking. Lung cancer rates are increasing among nonsmokers, and some members of your community are raising their voices. One concern? The assumption that lung cancer only affects smokers could delay diagnosis and treatment for anyone (especially never-smokers) with symptoms. Some say that stigma also affects funding for lung cancer research.

Lung cancer rates rising among nonsmokers

As many as one in five people who die from lung cancer in the U.S. every year do not smoke or use any other form of tobacco, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). “In fact, if lung cancer in non-smokers had its own separate category, it would rank among the top 10 fatal cancers in the United States,” the ACS says.

Two studies presented at the 2015 World Conference on Lung Cancer showed that lung cancer rates among nonsmokers (especially women) have been increasing over the past decade.

The ACS says that avoiding or quitting tobacco use is still the most important way people can reduce their risk for lung cancer, but researchers have found several other causes or risk factors, including:

  • Radon gas
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Cancer-causing agents at work, such as asbestos and diesel exhaust
  • Air pollution
  • Gene mutations (as PatientsLikeMe Researcher Urvi recently pointed out, some of the latest clinical trials for lung cancer are looking at the role of genetic mutations)

Member Donna on stigma (even in doctors) and raising awareness

Member Donna (LiveWithCancer) was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2012 and outlived her poor prognosis. She says she’s trying to raise awareness of lung cancer among nonsmokers and advocate for more research as a way to honor the memory of those who’ve died.

“I was a former smoker but I had quit before I was diagnosed, and it is absolutely heartbreaking to me how many [non-smoking] people were missing the diagnosis because even doctors — many doctors — still have the attitude that smoking is the only cause of lung cancer,” she says. “I’ve lost 20-year-old friends to lung cancer that were never around cigarette smoke at all, even as secondhand smoke.”

Donna says that a person with an unexplained cough and a history of smoking, like herself, is more likely to get a CT scan checking for lung cancer than someone who has not smoked but has possible symptoms.

She has a friend who was in his 40s and was a cyclist who biked “many, many miles every week” and started experiencing unexplained symptoms.

“He never, ever smoked and so it took the doctor a long time to finally look at whether perhaps his lungs had an issue,” she says. “And on his medical records, his wife told me, they wrote ‘patient claims he never smoked.’ They could not even accept that he was telling the truth.”

Her hope in spreading awareness? “We’ve got to get rid of the stigma, first with medical personnel so that they won’t ignore symptoms, but then just among the public because people just … they’re just not nearly as sympathetic with somebody that’s got lung cancer as they are with somebody that’s got breast cancer or any other cancer, really.”

In the lineup of different kinds of cancer, smoking has the strongest link to lung cancer, but researchers say that it can cause at least 14 types of cancer (as well as heart disease). So concrete stereotypes like “smoking=lung cancer” and “lung cancer=smoking” are flawed — and there are many health reasons to quit tobacco use.

Member Jacquie on “putting stigma aside”

Member Jacquie (Jacquie1961), who’s part of the 2016-2017 Team of Advisors, has talked in the forum about how people’s first question when they hear “lung cancer” is “Did you smoke?” or “Do you smoke?”

While those questions used to make her mad, now she takes them in stride and tells people that she used to smoke but quit 17 years ago.

“First and foremost, you have to put that stigma aside and not be embarrassed because I wasn’t,” Jacquie says, noting that other environmental factors play a part in lung cancer risk, such as air pollution’s role in the surge of “non-smoking” lung cancer in China.

“I am pleased to see more attention lately on new breakthroughs for the treatment of lung cancer,” Jacquie mentioned in the forum in 2015. “I think that getting rid of the stigma that it is not just a smokers’ disease is the first step in getting attention.”

On PatientsLikeMe

Join a community of more than 7,000 people living with lung cancer. How are you observing Lung Cancer Awareness Month? What would you like the public to know about the disease and related stigma?

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How cancer affects diet + pointers for trying to eat well

Posted September 8th, 2017 by

Many PatientsLikeMe members have talked in the forum about the dietary impact of lung cancer treatment and how it has hindered their eating. As many as 40 to 60 percent of patients with lung cancer experience unintentional weight loss.

Eating well (or as best you can) during and after cancer treatment can help you keep up your body weight, strength and ability to fight off infection. With the help of our Health Data Integrity Team, we’ve rounded up some diet and nutrition pointers for people with lung cancer.

Treatment side effects impacting diet

Everyone responds differently to treatments, and side effects vary in severity for patients, but here are some common ways treatments can affect your diet.

  • Surgery – Recovery requires extra energy and nutrients to heal wounds, fight infection and recover (physically and emotionally). If your weight is below normal, either before or after surgery, work with your care team to develop a nutrient-rich eating plan.
  • Chemotherapy – It aims to kill cancer cells, but chemo may also damage healthy cells in the mouth, stomach and intestines. This may result in mouth sores, taste changes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. When more than one drug is given (as is often the case in lung cancer chemotherapy), more side effects may occur and they may be more severe.
  • Radiation therapy – The high-energy rays can harm normal, healthy cells in the treatment area (often the chest and back). This may cause difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, taste changes, sore mouth or sore throat. Increasing fatigue and decreased appetite can also make it difficult to prepare meals and eat.
  • Immunotherapy – This emerging form of cancer treatment uses your immune system to fight cancer cells by more effectively recognizing and attacking them. Some people experience loss of appetite, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, constipation and diarrhea (which can result in dehydration).

What can you do before treatment?

As you prepare for lung cancer treatment, it’s important to eat well in order to maintain a healthy weight, keep up your energy and strength and take in the foods and nutrients your body needs (such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates, healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and plenty of water). These steps can also help before your treatment begins:

  • Work with your physician, care team and/or a registered dietician to make nutrition goals that work with your current body weight, body mass index (BMI), treatment plan and any other health conditions you may have. Your doctor may advise you to eat healthy but try to avoid losing weight or dropping too much weight (if weight loss is a common side effect of your treatment regimen).
  • Stock up your pantry and freezer with healthy food and ready-to-eat meals and snacks. Include food that you can eat when you’re feeling sick (like some low-fiber foods that may not irritate your digestive system as much).
  • Ask or allow friends and family members to help you prepare meals you can freeze and eat later. Also, check out meal delivery services, such as Meals on Wheels and Savor Health.

What can you do during treatment?

It can be hard to predict which side effects you’ll experience, and how severe they’ll be. Stay in close contact with your care team about how your treatment is affecting your diet – they may prescribe something to help you. These tips and tricks can also come in handy, depending on the side effects you experience

  • Eat five or six smaller meals, every couple of hours each day. Try to take in plenty of protein and calories, as well as a few servings of colorful produce. Smaller portions may be more tolerable than three large meals a day.
  • A few times a week, try eating plant-based foods (such as beans and veggies) instead of meat-based meals.
  • Eat foods that appeal to you. Don’t force yourself to eat something that doesn’t look good or makes you feel nauseated.
  • Avoid eating your favorite foods when you feel nauseated. This may cause a negative association with that food.
  • Stay hydrated with water or low-sugar juice and sports drinks throughout the day. Some people feel more ill when they try to eat and drink too much at the same time, so try sipping a drink with your meal or having a larger drink around 30 minutes before or after you eat.
  • Stay as active as possible, which may stimulate your appetite – while also getting plenty of rest.
  • Talk with your doctor before taking any new medications, supplements or treatments for nausea, diarrhea or constipation (even over-the-counter or alternative treatments).

How about after treatment?  

Following cancer treatment, many people experience a dry or sore mouth and throat, as well as changes in smell and taste – sometimes called “metal mouth.” Here are some ideas to help you manage:

  • Eat soft, moist food that’s easier to chew and swallow. Using some extra sauce or dressing can help soften food.
  • Avoid acidic food and drinks that may cause pain, such as citrus, alcohol, caffeine, vinegar, spicy food and carbonated drinks. Also, avoid coffee, tea and soda because caffeine and carbonation may worsen dry mouth.
  • Eat food and drink at room temperature because hot or cold food may irritate your mouth.
  • If some foods no longer taste good to you or taste too bland, try new flavors and spices to “trick your taste buds,” and add some sea salt.
  • Use plastic utensils, if metal ones cause a bad taste in your mouth.
  • If water or food taste metallic, add some citrus (such as a squeeze of lemon or lime).
  • If food tastes bitter or harsh, consider adding a bit of sweetness with sugar or grade-A pasteurized honey (avoid raw honey).

Which diet-related side effects have you experienced with cancer treatment? Join our community today to talk about topics like this with patients like you.

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