Treatment of lung cancer depends on the size, location and type of cancer as well as the patient's overall health. The average length of survival after treatment and the chance of a cure depend on the stage of the cancer, the cell type and the response to treatment. Many different treatments and combinations of treatments may be used to control lung cancer, and/or to improve quality of life by reducing symptoms. Below are typical treatments, yet each person and each type of cancer is different. Your doctor will explain the best course of treatment for you.
Surgery is an operation to remove the cancer. The type of surgery a doctor performs depends on the location of the tumor in the lung. A segmental or wedge resection is an operation to remove only a small part of the lung. A lobectomy is when the surgeon removes an entire lobe of the lung. A pneumonectomy is the removal of an entire lung. Some tumors are inoperable (cannot be removed by surgery) because of the size or location, and some patients cannot have surgery for other medical reasons.
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is tailored to each individual patient and the treatment depends on the type of cancer, the extent of the cancer and the patient’s general health. The drugs are generally given through an IV. Chemotherapy may be the sole treatment for the patient’s cancer, or it may be used in conjunction with surgery and/or radiation. Even after cancer has been surgically removed from the lung, cancer cells may still be present in nearby tissue or elsewhere in the body. While chemotherapy may not cure the cancer, it may be used to control cancer growth or to relieve symptoms so the patient can live a longer and more comfortable life.
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is directed to a limited area and affects the cancer cells only in that area. It may be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that remain in the treated area. Radiation for the treatment of lung cancer most often comes from a machine, called external radiation. However, radiation can also come from an implant placed directly into or near the tumor. This is referred to as internal radiation. Doctors also use radiation therapy, often combined with chemotherapy, as primary treatment instead of surgery. Radiation therapy may also be used to relieve symptoms such as shortness of breath.
Treating Small Cell Lung Cancer
Small cell lung cancer spreads quickly. In many cases, cancer cells have already spread to other parts of the body when the disease is diagnosed. In order to reach cancer cells throughout the body, doctors almost always use chemotherapy. Treatment may also include radiation therapy aimed at the tumor in the lung or tumors in other parts of the body, such as in the brain. Some patients have radiation therapy to the brain even though no cancer is found there. This treatment, called prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI), is given to prevent tumors from forming in the brain. Surgery is part of the treatment plan for a small number of patients with small cell lung cancer.
Treating Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Patients with non-small cell lung cancer may be treated in several ways. The choice of treatment depends mainly on the size, location, and extent of the tumor. Surgery is the most common way to treat this type of lung cancer. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also be used to slow the progress of the disease and to manage symptoms. At some medical centers, cryosurgery (a treatment that freezes and destroys cancer tissue) may be used to control symptoms in the later stages of non-small cell lung cancer.
To contact our lung cancer line, please call 1-866-488-LUNG (5864).