While new treatments have given patients a new lease of life, lung cancer patients may still experience complications as a direct result of the disease progressing. It is important to be aware of the types of complications and share them with your doctor for timely diagnosis and management as it can be difficult to differentiate between treatment induced complications and disease related symptoms from disease progression26.

These complications include:

Fluid in the chest and shortness of breath27

Lung cancer can cause fluid to accumulate in the pleural space which is the space in between the coverings (pleura) of the lung. The fluid buildup in this space prevents the lung from expanding fully and thus causes difficulty in breathing.

Treatment options:

  • Oxygen therapy28.
  • Slowly draining away the fluid by inserting a tube into the chest through a small cut. You may spend a few days in hospital after this treatment. If the fluid builds up again, a repeat procedure may be needed.
  • Pleurodesis: A process to seal the pleural space by using medicine to adhere the outer lining of the lung to the chest wall.
Pneumonia29

Many of the symptoms of pneumonia overlap with those of lung cancer, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, coughing, and coughing up pus or blood. In addition, pneumonia will also cause symptoms like fever, chills, headache, and confusion. It may be caused due to a weakened immune system, a complication of chest surgery, or a result of the tumor taking up space in the diseased lung.

Treatment options:

Depending on the severity, pneumonia may be treated with antibiotics at home or at a hospital.

Coughing up blood

Lung cancer can cause bleeding in the airway, which can cause you to cough up blood.

Treatment options:

  • When coughing up blood, the doctor’s first goal will be to stop the bleeding by bronchoscopy to identify the source of bleeding and administration of cauterization to the bleeding site or the usage of an external radiation therapy30.
  • Bronchial artery embolization: This is the last resort for failed bronchoscopy or external radiation therapy but can be first line treatment in massive hemoptysis. A catheter is inserted into the femoral artery (a large artery at the right lower limb) under aseptic technique. Contrast (dye) is administered, and an aortography (injection of contrast material while taking X-rays of the aorta) is done to delineate the aorta with its corresponding bronchial artery (artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the lung). Bleeding from this arterial branch will show up as a blush on X-rays and hence embolization (occlusion of the blood vessel by purposely introducing an emboli) can be done to stop the bleeding via introduction of metallic coils or substance into the affected vessel.
Pain

Lung cancer that spreads to the lining of the lung can cause pleuritic chest pain while cancer cells that migrates to the bone can cause skeletal pain31.

Treatment options:

There are various pain management medications that can help.