Lung Cancer (non-small cell) Overview

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After Treatment TOPICS

Lifestyle changes after treatment for non-small cell lung cancer

You can’t change the fact that you have had cancer. What you can change is how you live the rest of your life – making choices to help you stay healthy and feel as well as you can. This can be a time to look at your life in new ways. Maybe you are thinking about how to improve your health over the long term. Some people even start during cancer treatment.

Make healthier choices

For many people, a diagnosis of cancer helps them focus on their health in ways they may not have thought much about in the past. Are there things you could do that might make you healthier? Maybe you could try to eat better or get more exercise. Maybe you could cut down on the alcohol, or give up tobacco. Even things like keeping your stress level under control may help. Now is a good time to think about making changes that can have positive effects for the rest of your life. You will feel better and you will also be healthier.

You can start by working on those things that worry you most. Get help with those that are harder for you. If you smoke, one of the most important things you can do to improve your chances for treatment success is to quit. Studies have shown that patients who stop smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer have better outcomes than those who don’t. If you are thinking about quitting smoking and need help, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

Eating better

Eating right is hard for many people, but it can be even harder to do during and after cancer treatment. If treatment caused weight changes or eating or taste problems, do the best you can and keep in mind that these problems usually get better over time. You may find it helps to eat small portions every 2 to 3 hours until you feel better. You may also want to ask your cancer team about seeing a dietitian, an expert in nutrition who can give you ideas on how to deal with these treatment side effects.

One of the best things you can do after treatment is to put healthy eating habits into place. You may be surprised at the long-term benefits of some simple changes. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and limiting your alcohol intake may lower your risk for a some other cancers, as well as having many other health benefits. Get more information in our document Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: Answers to Common Questions.

Rest, fatigue, and exercise

Feeling tired (fatigue) is a very common problem during and after cancer treatment. This is not a normal type of tiredness but a bone-weary exhaustion that often doesn’t get better with rest. For some people, fatigue lasts a long time after treatment and can keep them from staying active. But exercise can actually help reduce fatigue and the sense of depression that sometimes comes with feeling so tired.

If you are very tired, though, you will need to balance activity with rest. It is OK to rest when you need to. (For more information on fatigue and other side effects, please see the “Physical Side Effects” section of our website or “Additional resources for non-small cell lung cancer” to get a list of available information.)

If you were very ill or weren’t able to do much during treatment, it is normal that your fitness, staying power, and muscle strength declined. You need to find an exercise plan that fits your own needs. Talk with your health care team before starting. Get their input on your exercise plans. Then try to get an exercise buddy so that you're not doing it alone.

Exercise can improve your physical and emotional health.

  • It improves your cardiovascular (heart and circulation) fitness.
  • It makes your muscles stronger.
  • It reduces fatigue.
  • It can help lower anxiety and depression.
  • It can help you feel better about yourself.

Long term, we know that getting regular physical activity plays a role in helping to lower the risk of some cancers, as well as having other health benefits.

Can I lower my risk of the cancer growing or coming back?

Most people want to know if there are lifestyle changes they can make to reduce their risk of cancer growing or coming back. Unfortunately, for most cancers there is little solid evidence to guide people. This doesn’t mean that nothing will help – it’s just that for the most part this is an area that hasn’t been well studied. Most studies have looked at lifestyle changes as ways of preventing cancer in the first place, not slowing it down or keeping it from coming back.

But there are some things people can do that might help them live longer or reduce the risk of lung cancer coming back.

Quitting smoking: If you smoke, quitting is important. Quitting has been shown to help people with lung cancer live longer, even when the cancer has spread. It also lowers the chance of getting another lung cancer, which is especially important for people with early stage lung cancer. Of course, quitting smoking may have other health benefits as well, such as lowering the risk of some other cancers. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

Diet and nutrition: The possible link between diet and lung cancer growing or coming back is much less clear. Some studies suggest that people with early stage lung cancer who have higher vitamin D levels might have better outcomes, but so far no study has shown that taking extra vitamin D (as a supplement) helps. On the other hand, studies have found that beta carotene supplements may in fact increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Because of the lack of data in this area, it’s important to talk with your health care team before making any major changes in your diet (including taking any supplements) to try to improve your outlook.


Last Medical Review: 09/05/2013
Last Revised: 04/30/2014