Lung cancer is a common cancer, with more than 1 in every 4 diagnosed cancers originating in the lung. It is also a treatable cancer, especially if caught in its earlier stages, and a variety of treatments exist.
The type of lung cancer treatment given depends on a number of factors, ranging from the patient’s overall health, to the type and stage of the cancer (tumor size and how far it has spread), and, ultimately, a patient’s choice. Typically, one or more treatment options will be available, and range from surgery to chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and symptom control.
Types of lung cancer treatments
- Surgery is mostly used to treat people with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), although it may not be a suitable option if the cancer is located near the heart, major blood vessels, or other structures. It may also be used to treat small cell lung cancer (SCLC) detected in early stages. There are, in general, four types of lung cancer surgery: a wedge or segmental resection, where the diseased portion of a lung is removed, but not an entire lobe; a lobectomy, where one lobe are removed; a bilobectomy, where two lobes are removed; and a pneumonectomy, where an entire lung is removed. During surgery, one or more nearby lymph nodes may also be removed to check for signs of cancer. If these lymph nodes are found to contain cancer, chemotherapy can be recommended after surgery.
- Chemotherapy is the primary treatment for small cell lung cancer, because SCLC responds well to this treatment and is often detected at later stages. Chemotherapy works to stop the growth of cancer cells, and is usually given in a cycle every three to four weeks, with many patients having between four and six cycles of chemotherapy. Chemotherapies used to treat SCLC are a combination that often include either cisplatin or carboplatin. For non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), patients usually receive cisplatin or carboplatin with another drug like Taxol (paclitaxel). Chemotherapy, especially for NSCLC patients, can be given prior to surgery (as neo-adjuvant chemotherapy) to shrink the cancer.
- Radiotherapy uses high-power energy beams (e.g., X-rays and protons) to destroy cancer cells. It can be applied externally (external beam radiation), or internally through needles, seeds, or catheters surgically inserted near the cancer. This latter use of radiotherapy is called brachytherapy. Radiotherapy is often given after cancer surgery to kill any tumor cells that remain, and is a main treatment option for inoperable cancers or to relieve pain in patients with advanced lung cancer.
- Chemoradiotherapy is a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy occasionally used to treat lung tumors that are difficult to operate on and have not spread to other organs.
- Targeted drug therapy is recommended to treat advanced, metastatic or recurrent NSCLC, using drugs that attack specific cancer cells. It can cause less harm to healthy cells than chemotherapy or radiation. Two main types of targeted therapies are: monoclonal antibodies (antibodies from a single type of immune system cell are used) and tyrosine kinase inhibitors.
- Photodynamic therapy (also called PDT or light-activating treatment) is a treatment that kills cancer cells using a drug activated by very bright light. It can shrink a tumor that is blocking an airway, and is a treatment choice for early stage NSCLC and patients who prefer not to have surgery.
- Laser therapy is an option for lung cancer treatment where the tumor is blocking an airway or for SCLC detected at an early stage.
- Microwave ablation uses high-frequency microwave energy, and is a treatment option for kill cancer cells in large tumors or those blocking airways.
- Radiofrequency ablation uses a type of electrical energy to heat up and kill a tumor. It is recommended for one or more small lung tumors, and possibly for patients who cannot have or do not want to undergo surgery.
- Electrocautery uses an electric current that is applied using a needle or probe to destroy cancer cells.
- Palliative care, also known as supportive care, involves a specialty care team that helps the patient minimize the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, as well as side the effects of treatments. Research has shown that palliative care can improve patients’ quality of life, and one study has shown that when started early, it can improve survival in people with advanced NSCLC.
During and after lung cancer treatment, some tests may be repeated to ensure that the treatment is working as intended. These tests include blood tests, X-rays, CT-scans, and ultrasound. If new symptoms develop, other tests may also be started to determine if the cancer has spread. Sites where cancers may spread are usually examined via an MRI study of the brain, a bone scan, and a CT scan of the chest and upper abdomen. It is important that cancer patients do adhere to scheduled follow-up assessments.
Possible future lung cancer treatments
Lung cancer treatments now being evaluated for possible use include:
- Less invasive surgeries
- Immunotherapy drugs to bolster a person’s immune system, so it can fight a cancer
- Gene therapies that deliver healthy genes delivered directly into a lung tumor to try to kill it
- Angiogenesis inhibitors that work to prevent blood vessels from forming inside growing tumors, denying them a blood supply
- Genetic testing to better identify best treatments for an individual, limiting unnecessary treatments
Note: Lung Cancer News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.