Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, amounting to 85–90 percent of all cases. It includes adenocarcinoma (about 40 percent of all NSCLC cases), squamous cell lung cancer (25–30 percent), and large cell carcinoma (10–15 percent).
The treatment and prognosis of NSCLC depend on the stage of the cancer, determined by primary tumor size, lymph node involvement, and whether it has spread (metastasis). Treatment options depend on the stage of the cancer. Below, these options are described briefly and links to more sites for more specific information are provided.
Surgery is a common option for NSCLC, except in some cases of advanced cancers or in people too ill to undergo surgery. However, even if the specialist removes all the tumor evident during surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to kill remaining cancer cells may still be needed.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or prevent them from continuing to grow. Two types of radiation therapy can be used:
- External radiation therapy, where a machine outside the body sends radiation toward the cancer.
- Internal radiation therapy, where a radioactive substance is placed into or near the cancer using needles, seeds, wires, or catheters.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. It kills the cells or prevents them from growing and spreading. It can be systemic, where the drug is taken by mouth or injected, or regional, where the chemotherapy agent is placed directly into an organ, a body cavity, or the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal chord. For lung cancers, a combination therapy is usually used.
Targeted therapies use medications or other substances to attack specific cancer cells, homing in on particular features of these cells. They usually cause fewer side effects than chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Laser therapy uses an intense, narrow laser beam to cut and destroy cancer cells (known as laser ablation). It may also be used to shrink or destroy tumors and to relieve symptoms such as bleeding or blockage.
Lasers may be used during surgery, too, as they are very precise in cutting body tissue and cause less bleeding, as they seal off the blood vessels as they cut.
Laser therapy may be used on its own or in combination with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
PDT is a cancer treatment that uses a drug and a type of laser light to kill cancer cells. The drug starts to works only when activated by the laser. It is usually used in cancers on the skin, just under the skin, or in the lining of internal organs. If the tumor is in the airways, PDT is given directly through an endoscope.
Cryotherapy is a treatment that freezes and destroys abnormal tissue. It is most often used for cancers blocking an airway and making breathing difficult, and done through an endoscope.
Electrocautery, also called diathermy, uses a probe or needle heated by an electric current to destroy abnormal tissue. It, too, is typically used if the cancer is in the airways.
This is the close monitoring of a patient with no treatment given until symptoms or signs appear or change.
People with NSCLC may participate in clinical trials where new cancer treatments are being investigated. Clinical trials are research studies that help determine whether new treatment options are safe, effective, and better than the existing ones.
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