What Can Be Expected in the Final Stages of Lung Cancer?

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According to the National Cancer Institute, during the final stages of lung cancer, a patient suffers myoclonus, dyspnea, fatigue, cough, rattle, delirium and fever. A study of 200 cancer patients revealed that noisy breathing, pain and urinary dysfunction were the most frequent symptoms during the last 48 hours of life.

Patients can acquire pain relief during their final hours, notes the National Cancer Institute. As consciousness tends to decline during this period and swallowing becomes difficult, alternatives to oral opioid administration are used, including intravenous infusions and intermittent subcutaneous injections. Myoclonic jerking frequently occurs at the end of life, and very high opioid doses can lead to myoclonus. Dyspnea, or shortness of breath, is a usual symptom in cancer patients during the final days or weeks of life. It happens when a patient requires more respiratory effort to overcome a restrictive disease, needs more respiratory muscles to maintain sufficient breathing or shows an increase in ventilatory need.

Physical and psychological changes and adverse effect of treatments are factors that contribute to fatigue, reports the National Cancer Institute. Some patients also experience chronic coughing, which causes pain, interferes with sleep, aggravates dyspnea and worsens fatigue. Death rattle happens when saliva and other fluids build up in the upper airways. Terminally ill patients tend to experience frequent fevers and infections.