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Treatment of lung cancer

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Treatment options typically include one or more treatments, including

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy or
  • Targeted drug therapy

Table 1 enumerates the various treatment options available for the management of different types of lung cancer. 

Table 1: Treatment Options for Lung Cancer
Common options
Treatment options for non-small cell lung cancers
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, the cancerous tissue along with a margin of healthy tissue is removed.

Procedures to remove lung cancer include:

  • Wedge resection: A small section of lung that contains the tumor along with a margin of healthy tissue is removed.
  • Lobectomy: The entire lobe of one lung is removed.
  • Pneumonectomy: An entire lung is removed.

Lung cancer surgery carries risks, including bleeding and infection. There could be shortness of breath after lung surgery, which would improve with time. Surgery could also be associated with pain in the chest muscles and in the arm on the side, where surgery was done. Physical therapy or a rehabilitation program may help restore the strength and range of motion.



Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. One or more chemotherapy drugs may be administered 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. 

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays to kill cancer cells. This therapy can be directed at the lung cancer from outside the body (external beam radiation) or it can be put inside needles, seeds or catheters and placed inside the body near the cancer (brachytherapy). This therapy can be used alone or along with other lung cancer treatments and can also be used to lessen side- effects of lung cancer.

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: Thisstops 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 severe bleeding.
  • Erlotinib: Thisblocks 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.


Supportive Care

When the cancer becomes unresponsive to treatments and there is no chance of cure, supportive care is offered. Here, the signs and symptoms are treated to make the person feel more comfortable. Supportive care allows one to make the most of the final weeks or months without enduring treatment side-effects that can negatively impact the quality of life.

Next page: Prevention of lung cancer

Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: September 29, 2012

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