Lung Cancer Treatments

Specific treatment for lung cancer will be determined by your doctor based on:
  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • The type of lung cancer
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference
Depending on its type and stage, lung cancer may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy or other medications, radiation therapy, local treatments such as laser therapy, or a combination of treatments. Combination treatment or multimodality treatment refers to having more than 1 type of treatment.

Treatment for lung cancer includes 1 or more of the following:
  • Surgery. Surgery is part of the treatment for early stage lung cancers. The type of surgery depends on the size and location of the tumor in the lung, the extent of the cancer, the general health of the patient, and other factors. Many surgeries are done with a long incision in the side of the chest, known as a thoracotomy. Some early stage tumors may be treated with video assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), which uses several small incisions (instead of 1 large one) and special long surgical tools.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors. Radiation may also be used with chemotherapy to treat lung cancer.
  • Chemotherapy. The use of anticancer drugs to treat cancerous cells. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. The oncologist will recommend a treatment plan for each individual. Chemotherapy may be given before other treatments, after other treatments, or alone for lung cancer.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT). A type of laser treatment that involves injecting photosensitizing chemicals into the bloodstream. Cells throughout the body absorb the chemicals. The chemicals collect and stay longer in the cancer cells than in the healthy cells. At the right time, when the healthy cells surrounding the tumor may already be relatively free of the chemical, the light of a laser can be focused directly on the tumor. As the cells absorb the light, a chemical reaction destroys the cancer cells. For lung cancer, the light is delivered through a bronchoscope (a small, flexible tube with a light on the end) that is inserted through the mouth or nose.
  • Targeted therapy. These are drugs that target specific parts of cancer cells or nearby cells that help them grow. So far, these drugs have only been found to be useful for some non-small cell lung cancers. For example, as cancers grow, they form new blood vessels which nourish them. Research aimed at blocking the growth of these blood vessels has led to the development of medications called antiangiogenesis medications. Bevacizumab is 1 of these medications. It has been found to be helpful in prolonging the survival of some patients with advanced lung cancer. It is used with the standard chemotherapy regimen. Medications with other specific targets, such as crizotinib, erlotinib, and cetuximab, may also be useful.
There are specific names for the order in which treatment is given. Neoadjuvant treatment refers to having radiation or chemotherapy before surgery. Having one or both of these before surgery may help shrink the tumor, as a smaller tumor is easier to take out in surgery.

Chemotherapy or radiation soon after surgery is called adjuvant treatment. The goal of adjuvant treatment is to kill any cancer cells that may be left after the surgery. Even if there is no sign of cancer cells, your doctor may suggest adjuvant treatment, as it may lower the risk that the cancer will come back or spread.

Clinical trials are being conducted on prevention and treatment options for lung cancer, including photodynamic therapy and chemoprevention.
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