Photo Screening For Lung Cancer: U.s. Preventive Services Task Force with How To Screen For Lung Cancer
Treatment for Lung Cancer
- Talking To Your Doctor
- The Use Of Surgery, Radiation, & Chemotherapy
- Treating Small Cell Lung Cancer
- Treating Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
- Clinical Trials
- Treating The Side Effects Of Treatment
- Follow-Up Care
Talking To Your Doctor
As a patient, you may want to create a list of questions, take notes during the doctor consultation, and/or take a family member or friend to listen or to participate in the conversation with your doctor.
During treatment you should report all troublesome side effects to your doctor. Most side effects from cancer treatment are temporary. But a doctor can help relieve your symptoms.
The Use of Surgery, Radiation & Chemotherapy
Since small cell lung cancer grows and spreads in a different way than non-small cell lung cancer, the standard approach to treatment differs.
Depending on the type of cancer, the extent of its spread, and the patient’s general health, the following treatments may be used alone or in combination: surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible; radiation to destroy the cancer cells in a specific area; and chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells throughout the body.
The following surgical procedures are used to treat lung cancer:
- pneumonectomy — surgery to remove an entire lung
- lobectomy — removal of one of the lobes (sections) in the lungs; the left lung has two lobes; the right lung is larger and has three lobes
- segmentectomy or wedge resection — removal of part of a lobe
Surgeries are performed while the patient is “asleep” under general anesthesia. The hospital stay is one to two weeks. Strenuous activity is limited for at least a month.
Chemotherapy or a combination of radiation and chemotherapy are often used in place of surgery to treat lung cancer. Since lung cancer patients are mostly tobacco smokers, they often have other lung diseases and may not be able to tolerate the loss or partial loss of a lung.
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs. Generally, when treating lung cancer, combinations of drugs are either injected into a vein or taken orally. The drugs circulate through the bloodstream, reaching all parts of the body.
Chemotherapy can also be given before surgery when the goal is to shrink the tumor to a size removable by surgery.
Radiation therapy shrinks and kills tumors and prevents cancer cells from growing and dividing. Treatment for lung cancer can be given externally or internally.
- external beam radiation or x-ray therapy — directs high-energy electromagnetic waves through the body to the cancer
- internal radiation — (also called brachytherapy) places an encapsuled source of radioactivity near the tumor or within the tumor
Phototherapy is the use of light to destroy tissue. It is an investigational treatment for lung cancer–meaning its effectiveness is being studied. Patients are injected with a substance called a photosensitizer that is absorbed by the cancerous tissue. The photosensitizer becomes toxic and kills the cancer when it is exposed to the light from a laser.
Laser therapy can also be used to remove tissue blocking an airway.
Treating Small Cell Lung Cancer
Small cell lung cancer can be sensitive to the combined use of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But surgery provides little benefit because it rarely results in the complete removal of the disease. Small cell lung cancer grows at a very fast rate and by the time it is diagnosed, the cancer has usually metastasized, or spread–even though the spread of cancer cells may not show up on imaging tests.
Before treatment, testing determines whether the cancer is limited to one side of the chest (limited-stage disease) or both sides of the chest and other organs such as the bones, the bone marrow, the liver, the adrenal glands, or the brain (extensive-stage disease).
Limited-stage small cell lung cancer is treated with chemotherapy and radiation. The patient’s doctor, called a medical oncologist, must monitor the patient closely. The patient must receive treatments on time and at full dose to thwart the tumor’s efforts at regrowing. The two-year survival rate for limited-stage small cell lung cancer is 40% to 50%.* If left untreated, the patient’s average survival is less than three months.
Extensive-stage small cell lung cancer is treated with chemotherapy, which is meant to bring some relief to the patient by shrinking the tumor. Sometimes radiation therapy is used to relieve symptoms. A cure is virtually unobtainable. Survival of one year is uncommon.
*Source: American Cancer Society
Treating Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Surgery offers a potential cure for patients with non-small cell lung cancer when the entire tumor can be removed. The use of surgery alone, however, poses a risk: Cancer deposits (micrometastases) too small to be detected by imaging tests can be present even after the lung tumor has been removed.
In patients whose cancers are known to have spread, surgery must be combined with other treatments.
When surgery is prevented by other medical conditions, a tumor is treated with radiation or with radiation and chemotherapy.
Most treatments now used to prolong the lives of patients with cancer were first studied in clinical trials or research studies. Participation in a clinical trial can offer the most up-to-date treatments available. Participation also helps future patients with cancer.
All newly diagnosed patients with lung cancer are potential candidates for national studies evaluating new forms of treatment.
Treating Side Effects
All anticancer drugs have toxicity. Common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, and bone marrow suppression, which can result in infections and/or bleeding.
Today, unpleasant and/or harmful side effects of cancer treatment can be reduced or eliminated for many people. Nausea and vomiting are controlled by the use of drugs. Antibiotics largely prevent infections. Growth factors can increase the body’s white blood cells so that the body can fight infection naturally. They can also increase the body’s red blood cells and platelets. Platelets, the body’s blood-clotting mechanism, can also be restored by transfusions of blood platelets.
Regular checkups after treatment for cancer are very important. Physical exams, chest x-rays, and lab tests can reveal if the cancer has returned or if a new cancer has developed. Between appointments, health problems should be reported to the doctor as soon as they occur. If any cancer is found, it should be treated as quickly as possible.