The side effects of lung cancer treatment depend on the type of treatment and may be different for each person. The side effects of lung cancer treatment are often only temporary. Doctors and nurses can explain the possible side effects of treatment, and they can suggest ways to help relieve symptoms that may occur during and after the lung cancer treatment.
Surgery for lung cancer is a major operation. After lung surgery, air and fluid tend to collect in the chest. Patients often need help turning over, coughing, and breathing deeply. These activities are important for recovery because they help expand the remaining lung tissue and get rid of excess air and fluid. Pain or weakness in the chest and the arm and shortness of breath are common side effects of lung cancer surgery. Patients may need several weeks or months to regain their energy and strength.
Chemotherapy affects normal as well as cancerous cells. Side effects of chemotherapy depend largely on the specific drugs and the dose (amount of drug given). Common side effects of chemotherapy for lung cancer include nausea and vomiting, hair loss, mouth sores, and fatigue.
Radiation therapy, like chemotherapy, affects normal as well as cancerous cells. Side effects of radiation therapy for lung cancer depend mainly on the part of the body that is treated and the treatment dose. Common side effects of radiation therapy are a dry, sore throat; difficulty swallowing; fatigue; skin changes at the site of treatment; and loss of appetite. Patients receiving radiation to the brain may have headaches, skin changes, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, or problems with memory and thought processes.
Photodynamic therapy makes the skin and eyes sensitive to light for 6 weeks or more after treatment. Patients are advised to avoid direct sunlight and bright indoor light for at least 6 weeks. If patients must go outdoors, they need to wear protective clothing, including sunglasses. Other temporary side effects of PDT may include coughing, trouble swallowing, and painful breathing or shortness of breath. Patients should talk with their doctor about what to do if the skin becomes blistered, red, or swollen.
Today, because of what has been learned in clinical trials, doctors are able to control, lessen, or avoid many of the side effects of lung cancer treatment.