Chemotherapy uses drugs that are toxic for cells (cytotoxic) to destroy cancer cells by disrupting their growth and spread. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, entering the patient’s bloodstream and traveling through the body, with the goal of killing cancer cells both inside and outside the lung area.
Chemotherapy drugs are given to patients with lung cancer every three to four weeks. Each three-to-four week period is called a cycle, and patients normally have four-to-six cycles of chemotherapy. Some chemotherapy drugs are taken by mouth (orally), while others are injected into a vein (intravenous, or IV).
Chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
Chemotherapy is the main treatment for SCLC, which is often diagnosed after the cancer has spread beyond the lung. Although these drugs can help control the growth and spread of the cancer, they are a cure for only a small number of people. For patients with SCLC, doctors usually consider a combination of chemotherapy drugs, including either Platinol (cisplatin) or Paraplatin (carboplatin).
- EP (cisplatin and etoposide)
- carboplatin and etoposide
- Gemcarbo (gemcitabine and carboplatin)
SCLC cancer usually responds well to these treatments.
Chemotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
For patients with NSCLC, doctors almost always consider using Platinol or Paraplatin in combination with at least one other drug, including Navelbine (vinorelbine), Gemzar (gemcitabine), Taxol (paclitaxel), Taxotere (docetaxel), VePesid (etoposide), and Alimta (pemetrexed).
In most patients with earlier-stage disease (stages 1 and 2) NSCLC is treated with surgery to remove the tumor from a lobe, or section, of the lung. Post-surgery chemotherapy, known as “adjuvant chemotherapy,” is used to help prevent the cancer from returning, particularly in those with stage 2 and stage 3A disease. For patients with stage 3 cancer that cannot be removed surgically, doctors typically recommend chemotherapy in combination with high-dose radiation treatments.
In people with advanced disease, where lung cancer has metastasized to more distant locations (stage 4), chemotherapy is often the main treatment. Radiation therapy is only used to relieve symptoms.
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