Palliative care for patients with locally advanced and metastatic non-small cell lung cancer

Charles B. Simone II, Joshua A. Jones


Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) often presents at an advanced stage and can result in a significant symptomatic burden. Many patients with advanced NSCLC experience symptoms that include pain, dyspnea, cough, decreased appetite, weight loss, and depression. Early initiation of palliative care for advanced or metastatic NSCLC can reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and prolong survival. Palliative care interventions by an interdisciplinary team focus on patient and family and address physical symptoms, illness understanding, coping, and psychosocial and spiritual distress. The addition of systemic therapy to best supportive care can further improve quality of life and prolong survival. Thoracic external beam radiation therapy beam radiotherapy is well tolerated and can improve quality of life and relieve symptoms such as hemoptysis, pain, cough, and dyspnea. For central airway obstruction, external beam radiation therapy, endobronchial brachytherapy, Nd:YAG laser therapy, and photodynamic therapy can improve symptoms. Symptomatic lung metastases to the brain, adrenal glands, and liver or compressing or impinging the spinal cord or nerve roots can also result in patient symptoms and can be managed with medical and pharmacologic interventions, radiation therapy, surgery, ablative therapy, and systemic therapy. All healthcare providers treating patients with advanced or metastatic NSCLC should make palliative care a priority by assessing for pain, dyspnea, coping and psychosocial distress, and other symptoms at each patient encounter to reduce patient morbidity, improve quality of life, and potentially prolong survival.