Doctors typically ask lung cancer survivors to attend regular follow-up appointments after completing treatment so that they can monitor the health of these individuals.
Checkup visits may increase survival by allowing the quick detection and treatment of a lung cancer recurrence or second cancer.
Aside from keeping their medical appointments, a person can take steps to stay as healthy as possible and reduce their risk of recurrence.
Keep reading to learn about follow-up care for lung cancer and find out what to do to prevent a recurrence.
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the overall 5-year relative survival rate for lung cancer is 20.5%. The earlier healthcare professionals detect the cancer, the better the person’s outlook.
However, the survival rate will depend on the stage of lung cancer, among other factors. The NCI provide the rates below, noting that while localized cancer is limited to the place where it started, regional cancer has spread to nearby tissues, and distant cancer has spread to farther parts of the body.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommend that a person follow the measures below after they finish lung cancer treatment.
Get follow-up care
It is important for lung cancer survivors to attend follow-up doctor appointments. The visits provide a good opportunity to discuss new symptoms, which may be due to:
- delayed side effects of treatment
- a recurrence of lung cancer
- the development of another condition
- the formation of a second type of cancer
Regardless of whether a person has new symptoms, a doctor may order blood tests and imaging tests. If someone has no signs to indicate the return of cancer, doctors may advise follow-up exams:
- every 3 months for the first 2 years
- every 6 months for the next few years
- at least yearly after 5 years
Ask for a survivorship care plan
An individual may wish to speak with their doctor about developing a personalized survivorship care plan. This care plan may include:
- a schedule for follow-up tests and exams
- a list of possible long-term or delayed side effects from either the cancer itself or its treatment
- suggestions for improving health and minimizing the risk of cancer recurrence
Keep medical records and health insurance
A person should keep medical records in case they need to see a new doctor who is not familiar with their medical history, including their health conditions and treatments.
In addition, they should always keep health insurance after the end of cancer treatment. This is necessary because medical care is costly, and there is a possibility of the cancer recurring.
For individuals with a high risk of lung cancer, doctors recommend a yearly screening with a low dose CT scan. Research suggests that this scan helps reduce the risk of death by 20%.
Lung cancer usually has no symptoms until it spreads. However, screenings provide the opportunity to detect cancer early before it reaches an advanced stage.
Once a person’s cancer spreads to nearby tissues, their 5-year relative survival rate is almost half that of someone who has cancer that has not spread.
Avoiding modifiable risk factors helps prevent lung cancer from recurring, and engaging in healthy lifestyle habits may increase survival.
Avoid risk factors
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that people can reduce their risk of lung cancer by taking the following steps to avoid risk factors:
- quitting smoking, if a smoker
- staying away from secondhand smoke, which is smoke from another person’s cigarette
- limiting exposure to carcinogens, which are cancer-causing chemicals
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Healthy lifestyle factors, such as eating a balanced diet and exercising, will not prevent cancer from recurring. However, they may increase the chance of survival, state the ACS.
Eat a balanced diet
Cancer survivors whose health is stable should follow nutrition guidelines for cancer prevention. The ACS explain that the same factors that raise the risk of cancer may increase the likelihood of it returning.
- eating plenty of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors
- limiting red meat, such as pork and beef
- limiting processed meat, such as bacon and sausage
- eating whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread
- avoiding refined grains, such as white rice, as well as bread and pasta made of white flour
- avoiding sugary beverages, such as sodas and fruit drinks
Limited research has examined the value of exercise for cancer survivors.
Doctors advise people to aim for at least 150–300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.
What about vitamins and supplements?
Research has not shown that dietary supplements prevent cancer. In fact, high levels of some vitamins or nutrients from supplements may have harmful effects.
However, a few preliminary studies suggest that certain food extracts may help reduce the likelihood of a recurrence. While such research on nutrition therapy to prevent cancer relapse is limited, early investigations on the topic show encouraging results.
For instance, the authors of a scientific review in Nutrients note that these three natural food extracts may help prevent lung cancer recurrence:
- Curcumin: This active ingredient in turmeric gives the spice its yellow color.
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG): EGCG is a compound in green tea.
- Apigenin: This compound is present in many fruits and vegetables.
People should always talk with their doctor before taking a food extract supplement.
When cancer comes back after treatment, doctors call this a recurrence.
If a person’s lung cancer recurs, their doctor will take several factors into account when recommending treatment. These include the person’s health and the location of the recurrence.
A person’s treatment options may include:
- Surgery: A surgeon will remove the cancerous tissue and possibly some of the surrounding tissue.
- Chemotherapy: These drugs kill or shrink cancer but also affect healthy cells.
- Radiation therapy: This therapy uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer.
- Targeted therapy: This treatment uses medications that detect and attack specific types of cancer cells.
- Combination: Some people may receive two or more of the above treatments.
In addition to cancer treatment, the doctor may prescribe other treatments to relieve the symptoms of cancer.
Sometimes, cancer survivors develop a cancer that is not related to the first one. Doctors refer to this as a second cancer, not a recurrence. The ACS note that lung cancer survivors have a higher risk of the following cancers:
The National Cancer Institute say that joining a cancer support group may improve survival and quality of life. Benefits include:
- boosting a person’s hopefulness and reducing loneliness
- providing opportunities to talk about feelings
- increasing the person’s ability to cope with side effects
- helping someone find solutions for practical problems
A variety of groups are available, including those that a person can access online or through a telephone call. A person can ask their doctor, local hospital, or social worker for suggestions of local support groups.
Lung cancer survivors should attend follow-up doctor visits to make sure that any cancer recurrence gets prompt medical attention. The most important steps that a person can take to prevent lung cancer from recurring are to quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
Although studies do not prove that eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise prevent cancer recurrence, these actions may increase survival and boost mental health.
Joining a support group may also be invaluable in helping a person emotionally cope with cancer.