Cancer Patients Value Quality of Life Over Symptom Management

Posted by Dr. Guneet Walia on March 10th, 2016

In October at their headquarters in New York City, CancerCare, a national organization that provides free support and financial services to anyone touched by cancer, held a roundtable discussion on “Improving the Quality of Life for Lung Cancer Patients”. It featured key opinion leaders and lung cancer advocates who discussed the importance of an all-inclusive way of life for lung cancer patients, focusing on:

  • cancer-related weight changes;
  • dietary recommendations;
  • the role of exercise in rehabilitative medicine;
  • and the use of social media in mounting a call to action in support of these causes.

The roundtable focused on promoting a greater relevance of Quality of Life (QOL) as well as Patient Reported Outcomes (PRO) in the management of lung cancer patients. Evidence suggests that an overall evaluation of both these measures can guide patients and health care professionals through the routine clinical care process.

Evidence was presented demonstrating that patients value QOL with more regard than symptoms in lung cancer, and that treatments should be evaluated based on their effects on QOL or PROs as well as survival. An earlier study showed that QOL, maintaining independence, burdening others, performing normal activities, and the ability to sleep are the top five points of concern for lung cancer patients.

The discussion at the October meeting centered on how vital exercise and nutrition are to patient quality of life, with both these factors playing critical roles in combating cancer cachexia (weakness and wasting of the body due to illness) and sarcopenia (loss of skeletal muscle mass due to illness).

Early intervention through incorporating nutrition and exercise at the beginning of diagnosis is essential in relieving symptoms throughout treatment, helps patients live longer, as well as lessens the need for aggressive care at the end of life. Regular exercise should begin at diagnosis; continue through pretreatment, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and post-surgery rehabilitation, as exercise not only contributes to improved QoL, but also directly counteracts the side effects of lung cancer and its treatments. Studies have shown that less post-treatment complications occur with the incorporation of exercise.

Another point discussed during the meeting was the importance of social media as a means to reach a broader audience ranging from patients, caregivers, family members to members of the care team. The use of social media in lung cancer and the wider oncology space has created what are now known as the POLs or the Patient Opinion Leaders- individuals known and respected for their knowledge in the field and who can disperse vital detail. Participation in social media has the potential to create a support network as well as reach oncologists and health care professionals.

At the meeting, evidence was presented demonstrating patients value quality of life over symptom management, therefore CancerCare and the attendees generated guidelines to integrate QOL with routine clinical care plans so that treatment plans are created based on its effects on QOL.

Based on expert presentations and discussion, the group published a white paper, titled “Improving the Quality of Life for Lung Cancer Patients,” offering the following recommendations:

  • QOL or PRO factors should be as important as survival when determining individual treatments and overall management of lung cancer patients
  • QOL and PRO factors, such as nutrition and exercise, should be incorporated into individual lung cancer treatment plans at diagnosis, and followed throughout the course of the disease
  • Social media provides a powerful venue through which the importance of QOL and PRO factors can be highlighted to lung cancer patients and caregivers

CancerCare recommends that lung cancer advocates, patients, and health care provider communities unify as a movement and advocate for the integration of diet and exercise into the treatment plans of lung cancer patients.

The complete white paper can be viewed online at

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