No one ever wants to hear the word “cancer” come out of their doctor’s mouth, but when it is associated with lung cancer, it can be doubly frightening. That’s not to say that an older adult can’t live with lung cancer – they can. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer, there are steps you can take to manage the disease, as well as early warning signs to watch for.
Lung cancer leads to more deaths in both men and women than any other type of cancer. In fact, deaths from lung cancer are higher than the next three common types of cancer combined. In addition, according to the American Lung Association, lung cancer tends to be a disease of the elderly with 82% of individuals with the disease being over the age of sixty.
When diagnosed in the early stages, the American Lung Association notes that a senior with lung cancer may expect a 53% survival rate. The survival rate applies for those cases that are detected when the cancer is still in the lungs and has not spread to other areas of the body. This is why early detection is so important.
Symptoms of Elderly Lung Cancer
Early detection is key if an older adult wants to survive lung cancer. Lung cancer can often mask itself as frequent colds, the flu, or pneumonia, so if your loved one is typically healthy and begins to have frequent chest related illnesses, it is best to be checked out by a doctor.
Older adults and their caregivers should also keep an eye on their fingertips. If you notice thickening or clubbing — a deformity of the fingertips in which they become thicker around the tips and noticeably larger than the rest of the length of the finger — this can be a sign of lung cancer. Additionally, if you sense that you are losing fine motor skills and have difficulty picking up daily objects, this can be caused by a lack of oxygen making it to your fingertips.
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Chest or back pain
- Muscle weakness
Risk factors of senior citizens can include smoking, exposure to radon gas, family history of lung cancer, second-hand smoke, exposure to asbestos.
Healthy Advice for Seniors with Lung Cancer
When you or a elderly loved one receives a diagnosis of lung cancer, it is important to avoid information overload. As a patient or a caretaker you need to be well informed, but you can receive too much information at once. The internet has hundreds, if not thousands of sites with cancer information, so please pick and choose your informational sources carefully before reading. One such site, LungCancer.org recommends that those living with lung cancer should keep in mind that statistics are just that and do not speak to an individual’s personal outcome.
Unfortunately, lung cancer can come with a stigma attached as most people assume that if a person has lung cancer they were a smoker. While smoking does cause many cases of cancer, it is not always the cause.
For those that did smoke, it is important for their loved ones to keep a close eye on their medical care. The patient may feel that they, “deserve,” the disease and therefore not follow their doctor’s instructions as they should. (www.lungcancer.org)
In the end, early detection is key to having a positive outcome with lung cancer, and once a diagnosis is made, ensuring your loved one receives and follows the best possible medical advice can make a world of difference in their daily comfort and eventual outcome.
How often do you or your loved one get checked by your physician? Share with us in the comments below.