Symptoms of dying from lung cancer

Updated May 10, 2017

Many advancements have been made in the treatment of cancer and recovery rates have improved overall. Unfortunately, this is not true of lung cancer. The survival rate is basically unchanged over the last 40 years. When a patient is in the final stages of lung cancer, the patient is likely to feel significant pain and medication is recommended to alleviate the suffering.


The final stages of lung cancer are likely to be quite painful. A Harvard Medical School study showed that 40 per cent of all lung cancer patients were in "serious" pain over the last three to six days of their life. That pain can be controlled with medication like morphine.


There is significant function loss over the last three to six months of life as lung cancer advances to its final stages. Coughing jags are particularly draining over time and each coughing episode is likely to force the individual to a position of rest and force them into a non-functioning state.


It might be expected that depression would be a major issue to an individual in the final stages of lung cancer. This has not been the case. In the final three months of life, patients are much more interested in comfort over life extension. Many of these patients (two-thirds in the Harvard study) wanted to forgo resuscitation and simply wanted to be comfortable.


In the final stages of lung cancer, mental acuity is no longer possible. Individuals may not see a loved one or family member who is standing right in front of them and conversations may be impossible. There may be a few moments of clarity, but they will come and go quickly and without any signs.

Breathing difficulty

In the final hours of lung cancer, the patient's breathing patterns change dramatically. Instead of breathing in and out in a rhythmic patter, there will be five or six quick breaths followed by no breathing at all. This pattern may continue until the patient takes his last breath.

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About the Author

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.