Reducing Secretions Related to Metastatic Lung Cancer

James M. Metz, MD
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 8, 2013


What is the best way to reduce the copious secretions related to metastatic lung cancer?


James M. Metz, MD, Editor-in-Chief of OncoLink and Professor of Radiation Oncology at Penn Medicine, responds:

The answer would depend on what type of secretions to which you are referring. You should discuss the secretions with your physician so that the appropriate treatment can be applied in your individual situation. Generally, there are some different types of secretions patients with lung cancer complain about:

  1. Secretions that are yellow or green, thick, and foul smelling may be from an infection and should be reported to your physician immediately. This should be treated with appropriate antibiotics, as determined by your physician.
  2. If the secretions are clear and are not infection related, some patients will benefit from an over-the-counter antihistamine. However, some of these medications can interact with other common medications, so it is important to discuss this with your physician.
  3. Patients sometimes complain of thick, white secretions after receiving radiation therapy to the chest. The radiation sometimes damages some of the mucous-producing glands that line the air passages, causing the patient to develop thick secretions. However, they are not usually copious secretions. Generally, a room humidifier placed next to the bed at night can help significantly with this problem. Also, consider turning down the thermostat a bit in the winter, as forced hot air heat is very dry and can further make the secretions thicker.