Lung cancer treatment depends on several factors, including the type and stage of the lung cancer and your overall health.
Radiation is a high-energy X-ray that can be used to treat lung cancer noninvasively. It passes through the chest to treat lung cancer and can be combined with surgery, chemotherapy or both depending upon the circumstances. Radiation therapy works within cancer cells by damaging their ability to multiply. When these cells die, the body naturally eliminates them.
In early-stage lung cancer, surgery has been the standard. However, in patients medically not able to tolerate surgery, focused radiation, called stereotactic body radiation therapy, is a good treatment option. For large tumors or those involving lymph nodes, radiation (often combined with chemotherapy) may replace surgery as the main treatment. For more advanced cancers, your doctors may recommend radiation to manage symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath or pain.
Medical oncologists specialize in treating lung cancer using various drugs. Chemotherapy means drug treatment, but there are many different kinds of medications that can be used to treat lung cancer. New research is helping oncologists learn which drugs may be most effective, and the side effects differ for each one. Often, chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy to make the radiation more effective. However, such combined treatment (chemoradiation) can also increase the side effects of treatment. Ask your medical oncologist about what drugs may be best for you.
Surgery is often a key part of lung cancer care. Even before treatment, surgery may be helpful in diagnosis and/or finding whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the chest. This type of surgery is part of cancer staging, or understanding how advanced the cancer may be.
In early-stage tumors, surgery by itself can be curative. Your surgeon may remove part of the lung around the cancer. The amount of lung removed will vary based upon location, your health and other factors. If there are no signs of spread, additional treatment is often not needed.
In more advanced tumors, surgery is sometimes replaced by radiation and chemotherapy or can be combined with these treatments. Ask your surgeon or other doctors whether your tumor is early or advanced and whether surgery will be helpful for you.