The choice of treatment depends on the type of lung cancer, whether it is non-small or small cell lung cancer, the size, location, the stage of the cancer, and the patient's general health.
Doctors may suggest many different treatments or combinations of treatments to control the cancer and/or improve the patient's quality of life.
What Standard Treatments Do
Here are the standard treatments for lung cancer:
- Surgery is an operation to remove the cancer. Depending on the location of the tumor, the surgeon may remove a small part of the lung, a lobe of the lung, or the entire lung and possibly even part of the ribcage to get to the lung.
- Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Doctors use chemotherapy to control cancer growth and relieve symptoms. Anti-cancer drugs are given by injection; through a catheter, a long thin tube temporarily placed in a large vein; or in pill form.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. An external machine delivers radiation to a limited area, affecting cancer cells only in that area. Doctors may use radiation before surgery to shrink a tumor or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells remaining in the treated area.
- Photodynamic therapy, a newer technique, is laser therapy that is used in combination with a chemical to kill cancer cells. Doctors may use it to reduce symptoms of lung cancer, such as bleeding, or to treat very small tumors.
Treating Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Doctors treat patients with non-small cell lung cancer in several ways, and surgery is a common treatment. 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. Doctors may also use radiation therapy and chemotherapy to slow the progress of the disease and to manage symptoms.
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 for small cell lung cancer 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. Surgery is part of the treatment plan for a small number of patients with small cell lung cancer.
Some patients with small cell lung cancer have radiation therapy to the brain even though no cancer is found there. This treatment, called prophylactic cranial irradiation or PCI, is given to prevent tumors from forming in the brain.