Lung Cancer

Published by Ken Dunn
Dunway Enterprises

Treatment for Lung Cancer


Treatment depends on a number of factors, including the type of lung cancer (non-small or small cell lung cancer), the size, location, and extent of the tumor, and the general health of the patient.

Many different treatments and combinations of treatments may be used to control lung cancer, and/or to improve quality of life by reducing symptoms.

  • Surgery is an operation to remove the cancer. The type of surgery a doctor performs depends on the location of the tumor in the lung. An operation to remove only a small part of the lung is called a segmental or wedge resection. When the surgeon removes an entire lobe of the lung, the procedure is called a lobectomy. Pneumonectomy is the removal of an entire lung. Some tumors are inoperable (cannot be removed by surgery) because of the size or location, and some patients cannot have surgery for other medical reasons.

  • Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Even after cancer has been removed from the lung, cancer cells may still be present in nearby tissue or elsewhere in the body. Chemotherapy may be used to control cancer growth or to relieve symptoms. Most anticancer drugs are given by injection directly into a vein (IV) or by means of a catheter, a thin tube that is placed into a large vein and remains there as long as it is needed. Some anticancer drugs are given in the form of a pill.

  • Radiation Therapy, also called radiotherapy, involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is directed to a limited area and affects the cancer cells only in that area. Radiation therapy may be used before surgery to shrink a tumor, or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that remain in the treated area. Doctors also use radiation therapy, often combined with chemotherapy, as primary treatment instead of surgery. Radiation therapy may also be used to relieve symptoms such as shortness of breath. Radiation for the treatment of lung cancer most often comes from a machine (external radiation). The radiation can also come from an implant (a small container of radioactive material) placed directly into or near the tumor (internal radiation).

  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT), a type of laser therapy, involves the use of a special chemical that is injected into the bloodstream and absorbed by cells all over the body. The chemical rapidly leaves normal cells but remains in cancer cells for a longer time. A laser light aimed at the cancer activates the chemical, which then kills the cancer cells that have absorbed it. Photodynamic therapy may be used to reduce symptoms of lung cancer - for example, to control bleeding or to relieve breathing problems due to blocked airways when the cancer cannot be removed through surgery. Photodynamic therapy may also be used to treat very small tumors in patients for whom the usual treatments for lung cancer are not appropriate.

Clinical Trials (research studies) to evaluate new ways to treat cancer are an option for many lung cancer patients. In some studies, all patients receive the new treatment. In others, doctors compare different therapies by giving the new treatment to one group of patients and the usual (standard) therapy to another group. Through research, doctors are exploring new and possibly more effective ways to treat lung cancer.

More information about treatment studies can be found in the NCI publication Taking Part in Clinical Trials: What Cancer Patients Need To Know.PDQ®, NCI's cancer information database, contains detailed information about ongoing studies for lung cancer. NCI's Web site includes a section on clinical trials. at This section provides detailed information about ongoing studies for lung cancer for patients, health professionals, and the public.

The NCI's Web site provides information from numerous NCI sources, including NCI's cancer information database. PDQ contains current information on cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, genetics, supportive care, and ongoing clinical trials. can be accessed at on the Internet.

Explanatory Terms

Surgery (SER-juh-ree) A procedure to remove or repair a part of the body or to find out whether disease is present. An operation.

Resection (ree-SEK-shun) A procedure that uses surgery to remove tissue or part or all of an organ.

Lobectomy (lo-BEK-toe-mee) The removal of a lobe.

Pneumonectomy (noo-mo-NEK-toe-mee) An operation to remove an entire lung.

Chemotherapy (kee-moh-THAYR-uh-pee) Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells.

IV Intravenous (in-tra-VEE-nus). Injected into a blood vessel

Catheter (KATH-i-ter) A flexible tube used to deliver fluids into or withdraw fluids from the body.

Radiation therapy (ray-dee-AY-shun THER-ah-pee) The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy, implant radiation, or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that circulates throughout the body. Also called radiotherapy.

External radiation (ray-dee-AY-shun) Radiation therapy that uses a machine to aim high-energy rays at the cancer. Also called external-beam radiation.

Radioactive (RAY-dee-o-AK-tiv) Giving off radiation.

Internal radiation (ray-dee-AY-shun) A procedure in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or near a tumor. Also called brachytherapy, implant radiation, or interstitial radiation therapy.

Photodynamic therapy (foe-toe-dye-NAM-ik) Treatment with drugs that become active when exposed to light. These drugs kill cancer cells.

Laser (LAY-zer) A device that concentrates light into an intense, narrow beam used to cut or destroy tissue. It is used in microsurgery, photodynamic therapy, and for a variety of diagnostic purposes.

Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a disease. Also called a clinical study.

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