What to Know About Home Oxygen Therapy with Lung Cancer

After lung cancer surgery or other treatment, oxygen therapy may be prescribed by your doctor.  Extra oxygen can be a helpful—even vital—part of a full recovery.  The duration of treatment varies from short-term (e.g. when fighting pneumonia) to several weeks or month, or sometimes permanently, as in severe cases of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Oxygen therapy has no particular “side effects” (other than possible dryness or irritation), but it does carry several “risks”—chiefly the fact that oxygen is highly flammable.  Training and care are required, so pay attention to your doctor, therapist, or medical supply person!

When I need to go on oxygen therapy, what is involved?

You should also get training from whoever supplies your oxygen, read whatever literature they provide, and do your own additional research as needed.  You and your home caregivers should plan for a bit of learning curve.

Research and plan, also, for some minor customizations to your equipment to tailor it to your needs, body, and sensitivities.  Fabric padding, tapes, and so forth can help keep masks and tubes from chafing.  Since a steady flow of “dry” oxygen can dehydrate your skin, consider humidifier options and skin/lip balms (non-petroleum-based, as they are flammable).

Where will the machine go and who brings it?

For home oxygen therapy, a rental agreement with a medical supply company will probably be required.  Your hospital or physical therapist can get you started.

You will also need space to store and to move/maneuver whatever equipment you have.  Clearing pathways through the house and removing obstacles and snags may be necessary.  Removing or disabling any sources of flame may also be required while you are on oxygen therapy.

What kind of apparatus will I need to wear for oxygen therapy?

The two main options for oxygen delivery are a face mask and a nasal cannula (tube with nostril prongs).

A woman wearing a face mask and a man with nasal cannula, illustrating different delivery systems for home oxygen therapy.

A cannula is less obtrusive and is typically preferred.  A face mask will be needed for higher oxygen concentrations or flow rates, or for someone who cannot breathe by nose for any reason.

More detail is available here.

How can I be mobile and what if I want to go out?

Mobility is possible with oxygen! Compressed oxygen is available in “to-go sizes.”  You can also rent or purchase a portable “oxygen concentrator” which draws O2 from the air and delivers it to your nose.  These various systems are small enough to fit in a bag or backpack. 

Airlines will require an oxygen concentrator, since they will not permit flammable oxygen canisters on their craft (understandably!).

How often does oxygen equipment need to be maintained?

Your provider and equipment may have different requirements, but a rough expectation should be something like this:

  • Weekly or more often: wash tubing and mask/cannula and sanitize with vinegar
  • Weekly: wipe down equipment, check air filter & clean or replace if needed
  • Every 2 weeks: replace mask/cannula
  • Every 3-6 months: replace tubing
  • As needed: recharge or replace batteries on any mobile equipment

There may be additional maintenance that your provider will perform, on their own schedule, or may require you to do.  Work with them to clarify.

Recovering from lung cancer with other therapies

Our therapists at ORW have experience helping lung cancer survivors with home oxygen therapy, and will be able to advise you if this is a therapy you need during recovery.  They will also work to integrate oxygen therapy with numerous others that help aid in recovery from lung cancer surgery or other treatments.  If you are undergoing (or anticipating) treatments for lung cancer, please contact us to schedule a free 15-minute consultation.