You and your doctor choose a cancer treatment regimen based on a number of factors, such as your overall health, the type and stage of your cancer, and your preferences. Options typically include one or more treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or targeted drug therapy.
In some cases you may choose not to undergo treatment. For instance, you may feel that the side effects of treatment will outweigh the potential benefits. When that's the case, your doctor may suggest comfort care to treat only the symptoms the cancer is causing, such as pain.
|Treatment options for non-small cell lung cancers
||Surgery, sometimes chemotherapy
||Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation
||Combined chemotherapy and radiation, sometimes surgery based on results of treatment
||Chemotherapy, sometimes radiation
||Chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, clinical trials, supportive care
|Treatment options for small cell lung cancers
||Combined chemotherapy and radiation, sometimes surgery
||Chemotherapy, clinical trials, supportive care
During surgery your surgeon works to remove the lung cancer and a margin of healthy tissue. Procedures to remove lung cancer include:
• Wedge resection to remove a small section of lung that contains the tumor along with a margin of healthy tissue
• Segmental resection to remove a larger portion of lung, but not an entire lobe
• Lobectomy to remove the entire lobe of one lung
• Pneumonectomy to remove an entire lung
If you undergo surgery, your surgeon may also remove lymph nodes from your chest in order to check them for signs of cancer.
Lung cancer surgery carries risks, including bleeding and infection. Expect to feel short of breath after lung surgery. Your lung tissue will expand over time and make it easier to breathe. Your doctor may recommend a respiratory therapist who can guide you through breathing exercises to aid in your recovery.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. One or more chemotherapy drugs may be administered through a vein in your arm (intravenously) or taken orally. A combination of drugs usually is given in a series of treatments over a period of weeks or months, with breaks in between so that your body can recover.
Chemotherapy can be used as a first line treatment for lung cancer or as additional treatment after surgery. In some cases, chemotherapy can be used to lessen side effects of your cancer.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be directed at your lung cancer from outside your body (external beam radiation) or it can be put inside needles, seeds or catheters and placed inside your body near the cancer (brachytherapy).
Radiation therapy can be used alone or with other lung cancer treatments. Sometimes it's administered at the same time as chemotherapy.
Targeted drug therapy
Targeted therapies are newer cancer treatments that work by targeting specific abnormalities in cancer cells. Targeted therapy options for treating lung cancer include:
• Bevacizumab (Avastin). Bevacizumab stops a tumor from creating a new blood supply. Blood vessels that connect to tumors can supply oxygen and nutrients to the tumor, allowing it to grow. Bevacizumab is usually used in combination with chemotherapy and is approved for advanced and recurrent non-small cell lung cancer. Bevacizumab carries a risk of bleeding, blood clots and high blood pressure.
• Erlotinib (Tarceva). Erlotinib blocks chemicals that signal the cancer cells to grow and divide. Erlotinib is approved for people with advanced and recurrent non-small cell lung cancer that haven't been helped by chemotherapy. Erlotinib side effects include a skin rash and diarrhea.
Clinical trials are studies of experimental lung cancer treatment methods. You may be interested in enrolling in a clinical trial if lung cancer treatments aren't working or if your treatment options are limited. The treatments studied in a clinical trial may be the latest innovations, but they don't guarantee a cure. Carefully weigh your treatment options with your doctor. Your participation in a clinical trial may help doctors better understand how to treat lung cancer in the future.
When treatments offer little chance for a cure, your doctor may recommend you avoid harsh treatments and opt for supportive care instead. If you're receiving supportive care, your doctor may treat signs and symptoms to make you feel more comfortable, but you won't receive treatment aimed at stopping your cancer. Supportive care allows you to make the most of your final weeks or months without enduring treatment side effects that can negatively impact your quality of life.