What to Expect in the Final Stages of Lung Cancer

For any individual unfortunate enough to be caught in the later stages of lung cancer (stage IV), and with the prospect of may be less than 12 months to live, patient preparation can often play as an important role in the final treatment of a patient, as the final treatments that may be offered themselves. Preparation is often about patient awareness, and the understanding of what exactly can be expected in the final days, weeks, or months that lay ahead.


Late stage symptoms usually include a difficulty in breathing (shortness of breath) due to fluid build-up around the lungs which cause a blocking of the airflow, coughing up blood in the sputum (mucus coughed up from the lower airways), chest pains, and a notable weight loss (anorexia). Also in late stage IV lung cancer, the metastasis (spread) of the cancer has usually already extended beyond the tumor to the surrounding tissues, and to both lungs.

It is not uncommon to find at this late stage that the cancer has metastasized to the brain, kidneys, liver, prostate, and the bones, through the blood and lymph system. It would also be quite normal for a patient to start experiencing other severe cancer related problems such as: seizures, visionary problems, and a weakness that may be contained to one side of the body, and which may become progressively worse as the weeks go by.

Late Stage Palliative Care

At this late stage there is really little hope for the cancer patient to survive, as the cancer can now no longer be cured, and only palliative care (minimising the progression and relieving the symptoms of cancer) can be offered. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are two treatments that can be offered to a patient to ease chest pains and severe coughing, which in turn may also help prolong life a little longer; however, “a little longer” is usually the case, and for this reason the patient or their family may decide not to accept the treatment.

Although chemotherapy can offer a patient some help at this late stage, the side-effects for some may be just to over-whelming to bear. However, doctors tend to recommend that patients accept chemotherapy treatment, pointing out that the side-effects are only temporary, and usually a lot less severe that the symptoms of the disease itself. Of course such advise would be given on an individual basis, as age, previous treatment response, and general condition of a patient would need to be taken into consideration.

However, the harsh reality is that stage IV lung cancer is all about palliative care, and the preparation of a patient to die with a little more dignity than may of otherwise been the case.