Cancer mortality rates continue to drop. The American Cancer Society reports a 26% overall decline from 1991 to 2015. But while progress is being made with lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers, lung cancer continues to have the most deaths.
Unfortunately, some patients still enter end-stage cancer. And knowing the signs a person might be dying from cancer is vital to obtaining proper pain management and end-of-life care. So what should you look for?
1. Loss of interest
Losing interest in news, entertainment, or family and friends might be a sign of giving up, according to Cancer.net. Also, reducing time with friends or visitors is another sign of being uninterested in life.
Next: This could be why the patient doesn’t feel like being social.
While fighting cancer can sap energy levels, an increase in weakness and exhaustion is another signal cancer might be worsening, Cancer.net reports. Also, the desire to sleep more and spend more time in bed is another end-of-life sign. Nearly everyone with advanced-stage cancer experiences fatigue, according to the American Cancer Society.
Next: This symptom might influence exhaustion.
3. Weight loss
Muscle atrophy and weight loss might occur, according to Cancer.net. And appetite might change because the body is slowing down, according to the American Cancer Society. Food no longer looks or tastes appetizing, and the patient will feel full quicker.
Next: This might make it difficult to eat.
A health care provider can help manage the pain, so it is important to openly communicate symptoms, according to the American Cancer Society. Keep a record of the pain to help the doctor prescribe the best medication.
Next: These are common signs of pain.
5. Know the signs of pain
Some cancer patients might be unable to successfully communicate they are in pain. So some signs include labored breathing, moaning sounds, sad or tense facial expressions, or body tension, according to the American Cancer Society.
Next: This is a sign of pain — and an overall problem to watch.
6. Breathing problems
Breathing problems are common in end-stage cancer, the American Cancer Society notes. A patient might experience shortness of breath or fast breathing or feel as though their lungs are filling with liquid. Explain breathing issues to the doctor for assistance, which might include medication or changing positions.
Next: This is possible and needs attention.
7. Mucus can build up in the throat
A patient might not be able to cough up secretions if mucus collects in the back of the throat, often creating a rattling sound. Caregivers can loosen secretions by adding humidity to the room, changing the patient’s positions, or asking for medications.
Next: Doing this might be challenging.
8. This issue might be due to respiratory challenges
Medication is important for end-of-life care. But some patients have trouble swallowing pills, according to the American Cancer Society. If pills are an issue, request medication in liquid or patch form.
Next: Don’t be alarmed if this happens.
9. Cognition might change
A patient’s general ability to focus and attention span might wane — and they might be confused about time, place, or recognizing people, the American Cancer Society notes. Try to remain calm, and don’t make sudden moves that could add anxiety.
Next: Patient temperature might feel like this.
10. Body temperature changes
Body extremities might feel cool due to slowing circulation. Keep the patient warm by applying warm blankets, but avoid using heating pads or electric blankets.
Next: Skin changes might occur.
11. Skin changes
Skin changes might occur as the body temperature begins to drop. Extremities can appear bluish or mottled. Also, some areas might appear dark or pale.
Next: This bodily function might change.
12. Elimination can change
Elimination control might be challenging. Also, urine output might be dark or decrease. Caregivers can use a catheter and waterproof pads if elimination control is an issue.
Next: If this happens, ask one important question.
13. This sense might change
Vision changes can occur, which might include blurriness or dimness. Pupil size might not change, so assess the situation by asking the patient if they can still hear your voice. Hearing can also be compromised. Continue to touch and reassure the patient you are present, and provide encouraging words.
Next: This might happen emotionally.
14. Emotional changes can occur
The patient might experience the stages of grief — which include fear, anger, guilt, regret, depression, and anxiety — according to the American Cancer Society. The person might feel alone or seek meaning to why this is happening.
Next: How can you help?
15. End-of-life care
Hospice care can make the patient feel comfortable during the final stage of cancer. Care focuses on quality of life and can be used for several months, which can ease many end-stage symptoms. Providers can visit patients in their homes, so they are more comfortable. And they can offer both physical and spiritual guidance.
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