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Managing Symptoms and Side Effects

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You may experience symptoms from your cancer or your cancer treatments. Be sure to tell your cancer treatment team about any symptoms you are experiencing so they can determine if supportive or palliative care is appropriate. In most cases, these symptoms can be controlled with medications, exercises or other therapies to help you feel better and continue with your daily life. Remember:

  • Take care of yourself. Eat well; drink plenty of water or non-caffeinated liquids that contain electrolytes; exercise when you are able and get enough rest, both at night and during the day. Listen to your body to help you know when to rest.
  • Ask to see a pulmonologist or respiratory therapist if you feel short of breath. 
  • Don’t be afraid to take pain medications. Although many people may fear getting addicted to or “hooked” on pain medications, research has shown addiction is unlikely when these medications are used appropriately. 
  • Ask your doctor for help if you experience long-term depression or sleeplessness. Living with any serious illness can cause mental exhaustion. It is normal to be worried, fearful, sad, or anxious. It is okay to ask for counseling or other help to deal with these feelings.
  • Your cancer or your treatment may affect your ability to be intimate with your spouse or significant other. Talk about this with your partner, and take time to just be together. If necessary, talk to your doctor or a counselor.
  • Write down your symptoms as you notice them, and take note of anything that makes you feel better or worse. Share this list with your cancer treatment team at each of your appointments.

Management of common symptoms

Ask your oncology nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant or doctor to talk with you about how these or other methods may help you manage symptoms of your cancer or side effects of your treatments. 

Possible Symptom or Side Effect


Pain Take pain medications as prescribed.

Both long-acting and short-acting pain medications are available. To be most effective, long-acting pain medications need to be taken before you feel the pain and are used on an ongoing basis to prevent and control pain. Short-acting medications can be used for immediate relief.
Shortness of breath

Use inhalers or other medications to open up airways or reduce swelling.

Use portable oxygen when directed by your doctor.

Severe sore throat Take pain medications or other medications before eating or as prescribed.

Eat soft, cool foods; avoid citrus and acidic foods, and carbonated or caffeinated drinks.
Skin rash/redness/peeling/itching Moisturize skin before, during and after therapy as recommended.

Wear loose-fitting clothes.

Stay out of the sun. Use sunscreen when you go outside.

Use hydrocortisone or antibiotic creams and/or oral antibiotics as prescribed.
Fatigue/tiredness Be kind to yourself. Rest when you need to and don’t take on additional activities.

Eat a healthy diet to ensure proper nutrition.

Have your red blood cell levels checked. If they are very low, you may need a transfusion.

Keep a regular exercise routine. Even light walking can help.
Nausea/vomiting Take anti-nausea medications as prescribed. These are usually most effective when taken before, during and after therapy.

Eat small meals throughout the day.
Hair loss Plan for hair loss by getting a haircut, wigs, hats or scarves.
Weaker immunie system Wash your hands often and avoid being around people who are sick.
Numbness or tingling of hands/feet Avoid snug socks and shoes.

Exercise if you are able, including walking and other light activities.

Dress appropriately, especially for cold weather.
Diarrhea Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids.

Take anti-diarrhea medications as prescribed.
Constipation Take stool softeners or laxatives as prescribed.

Eat fruits, vegetables and other high-fiber foods and drink plenty of fluids.
Weight loss Work with a nutritionist/dietician to create a meal plan

Avoid heavy and high protein meals prior to treatment.

Take medications as prescribed.

Chronic cough Your doctor may recommend treatment to address airway invasion from the cancer.

Take medications as prescribed.


Additional Resources

View our webinar, "Life with Lung Cancer: How Nutrition and Exercise Affect Outcomes," which reiterates the importance of a healthy lifestyle among cancer patients and survivors in order to improve outcomes of people with lung cancer.

View or download the individual presentations:
Nutrition and Lung Cancer by Jennifer Wolfshohl, RD, CSO, LD
Physical Activity and Lung Cancer by Anna L. Schwartz, PhD, FNP-BC, FAAN


Personalized Care PlanThe Personalized Care Plan is a guide for every lung cancer patient, no matter where their journey takes them. Use this resource to record information on your diagnosis, track treatments and appointments, monitor symptoms and more.

Download in English (PDF) >
Download in Spanish (PDF) >

Order free print copies online >



This information is not designed to be a substitute for medical advice provided by your treatment team.
Last updated 7/2017.

©2018 Lung Cancer Research Foundation | Federal Tax ID #14-1935776 | LCRF is a 501(c)(3) public charity.