Preventing Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Recurrence

by Sheila M. Eldred Health Writer

Preventing lung cancer relapse

As a non-small cell lung cancer patient, you’re probably well aware that recurrence is common. While it’s impossible to completely shield yourself from lung cancer relapse, there are some things you can do to stack the odds in your favor. Some tactics are similar to those for preventing lung cancer the first time around, while others are specific to relapse.

Here, we’ve compiled tips from lung cancer research and advocacy organizations—including advice for coping with the fear of relapse.

Quit smoking, hands breaking cigarette.

Quit smoking to prevent lung cancer relapse

No surprise here: Not smoking is by far the best thing you can do to prevent lung cancer in the first place, and it’s also the No. 1 prevention tactic to avoid another lung cancer. (Bonus: it’ll also help prevent other cancers and improve your quality of life.)

Whole and cut up apples.

Eat foods to lower your lung cancer risk

While there isn’t conclusive evidence that diet can help prevent recurrence of lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, some studies have shown links between certain foods and lowered risk. One such study noted that people who ate foods high in flavonoids, such as apples and onions, were associated with a 50 percent lowered risk of lung cancer. Another found a similar link with foods high in lycopene, including tomato sauces and tomatoes.

Sizzling bacon.

Avoid saturated fat to reduce lung cancer risk

Skip the saturated fat. It’s equally hard for researchers to say with certainty what not to eat, but one large study showed that avoiding a diet high in saturated fat was linked to a reduced risk of lung cancer. The link was particularly strong for smokers.

running feet

Raise your heart rate and lower your cancer risk

We’ve all heard that exercise is good for us, but the benefits extend beyond staying fit: After much inconclusive research, a 2016 study showed strong links between exercise and a lowered risk of 13 different cancers—including lung cancer.

Adults should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity workouts or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, the American Cancer Society recommends.

Micrograh of small cell lung cancer

Predict lung cancer recurrence with precision medicine

The more doctors can find out about your particular cancer, the better they can tailor your treatment. Because there are hundreds of specific DNA signatures linked to lung cancer that can respond to treatments differently, precision medicine can be extremely helpful in figuring out whether a recurrence is likely. One new blood test, for example, was designed so that doctors could see whether cancer cells remain after treatment.

medical team

Consider post-surgical nanotech drug delivery

In order to combat any microscopic remnants of cancer after surgery, scientists developed a biodegradable mesh made of nanofibers that can deliver a drug called cisplatin directly to the surgical site. The mesh was designed specifically to work with the complex nature of lung tissue. Ask your doctor about post-surgical local drug delivery strategies such as this.

Lung CT

Get follow-up lung cancer screenings

Because it’s important to detect any possible recurrence of cancer as early as possible, your care team will likely want to monitor with follow-up scans. Depending on the type, stage, and treatment of your original cancer, follow-ups could include blood or imaging tests. You can help make sure everyone is on the same page by developing a survivorship care plan.

worried woman

Coping with the fear of lung cancer recurrence

After cancer, it’s normal to be afraid of follow-up checks; there’s even a term for it: “scanxiety.” Managing this fear is possible with emotional support, stress-relieving activities, and a healthy lifestyle. Find a support group, for example, and develop a regular yoga or journal-writing practice. Check out more ideas from

group support

If lung cancer returns

If your fears of recurrence are confirmed, you’ll likely go through a mix of strong emotions. The National Cancer Institute has developed guidelines for just such situations. Know that there are many people who understand what you are going through.

Sheila M. Eldred
Meet Our Writer
Sheila M. Eldred

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a graduate of Columbia’s School of Journalism and a former newspaper reporter. As a freelance health journalist, she writes about everything from life-threatening diseases to elite athletes. Her stories have appeared in The New York Times, Nature, FiveThirtyEight, Pacific Standard, STAT News, and other publications. In her spare time, she and her family love running, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking in Minneapolis.