Living as a Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Survivor

For some people, treatment may remove or destroy the lung cancer. The end of treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You’ll be relieved to finish treatment, yet it’s hard not to worry about cancer coming back. This is very common if you’ve had cancer.

For other people, the lung cancer may never go away completely. Some people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to try to keep the cancer in check for as long as possible. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be difficult and very stressful.

Living with cancer is different from living after cancer. Life after lung cancer means returning to some familiar things and also making some new choices.

Ask your doctor for a survivorship care plan

Talk with your doctor about developing a survivorship care plan for you. This plan might include:

  • A suggested schedule for follow-up exams and tests
  • A schedule for other tests you might need in the future, such as early detection (screening) tests for other types of cancer, or tests to look for long-term health effects from your cancer or its treatment
  • A list of potential late or long-term side effects from your treatment, including what to watch for and when you should contact your doctor
  • Suggestions for things you can do that might improve your health, including possibly lowering your chances of the cancer coming back

Typical follow-up schedule

If you have completed treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask if you are having any problems and may do exams and lab tests or imaging tests to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects.

Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some might only last for a few days or weeks, but others might last a long time. Some side effects might not even show up until years after you have finished treatment. Your doctor visits are a good time to ask questions and talk about any changes or problems you notice or concerns you have.

For all lung cancer survivors, it’s important to let your doctor know about any new symptoms or problems, because they could be caused by the cancer coming back or by a new disease or second cancer.

Doctor visits and tests

In people with no signs of cancer remaining, many doctors recommend follow-up visits and CT scans about every 6 to 12 months for the first 2 years after treatment, and yearly visits and CT scans after this, although doctor visits might be more frequent at first.

Keeping health insurance and copies of your medical records

Even after treatment, it’s very important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.

At some point after your cancer treatment, you might find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn’t know about your medical history. It’s important to keep copies of your medical records to give your new doctor the details of your diagnosis and treatment. Learn more in Keeping Copies of Important Medical Records.

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

Staying as healthy as possible is more important than ever after lung cancer treatment. Quitting smoking and eating right may help you lower your risk of your lung cancer coming back, and may help protect you from other health problems.

Quitting smoking

If you smoke, quitting is important. Quitting has been shown to help people with lung cancer live longer, even if 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 can have other health benefits as well, including lowering your 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, nutrition, and dietary supplements

The possible link between diet and lung cancer growing or coming back is much less clear. Some studies have suggested that diets high in fruits and vegetables might help prevent lung cancer from developing in the first place, but this hasn’t been studied in people who already have lung cancer.

Some early studies have suggested 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 actually increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like medicines in the United States – they do not have to be proven effective (or even safe) before being sold, although there are limits on what they’re allowed to claim they can do. If you’re thinking about taking any type of nutritional supplement, talk to your health care team. They can help you decide which ones you can use safely while avoiding those that could be harmful.

If the cancer comes back

If cancer does recur at some point, your treatment options will depend on where the cancer is, what treatments you’ve had before, and your health. Other types of treatment might also be used to help relieve any symptoms from the cancer. For more on how recurrent cancer is treated, see Treatment Choices By Stage for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, you may also want to read Coping With Cancer Recurrence.

Could I get a second cancer after lung cancer treatment?

People who’ve had lung cancer can still get other cancers, although most don’t get cancer again. Lung cancer survivors are at higher risk for getting another lung cancer, as well as some other types of cancer. Learn more in Second Cancers After Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer.

Moving on after lung cancer

Emotional support

Some amount of feeling depressed, anxious, or worried is normal when lung cancer is a part of your life. Some people are affected more than others. But everyone can benefit from help and support from other people, whether friends and family, religious groups, support groups, professional counselors, or others. 

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: February 8, 2016 Last Revised: May 16, 2016

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