When Is Chemotherapy Used for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer?
“The decision whether to give a patient chemotherapy primarily depends upon the stage of cancer,” says Simon. Other factors, such as your health and ability to tolerate treatment also come into play.
Here are the current guidelines for chemotherapy in lung cancer patients:
Stage I. Most people with Stage I cancer do not receive chemotherapy. However, in some cases, chemotherapy may be used after surgery to help kill any remaining cancer cells.
Stage II. Chemotherapy is usually given after surgery as an adjuvant therapy to help kill any remaining cancer cells.
Stage III. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery all may be used. Chemotherapy may be given at the same time as radiation therapy, or one after the other. Chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation therapy is generally referred to as concurrent therapy. This combination is more effective than radiation alone, but potentially harder on the patient. “Whether chemotherapy is used at the same time as radiation therapy depends on the health and strength of the patient,” says Simon.
Stage IV. Patients at this stage will receive chemotherapy alone or with targeted treatments. At this stage, the cancer has spread throughout the body and can’t be cured. The goals of chemotherapy are to help control cancer, lessen symptoms, and lengthen life.
If your cancer comes back after your initial treatment (called recurrent cancer), you may receive chemotherapy either alone or with other treatments to help control it. If your cancer does come back, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the goals, likely benefits, and possible risks of any continued treatment. Even if your cancer can’t be cured, treatment can help minimize symptoms and slow cancer growth.
What Is Chemotherapy Treatment for Lung Cancer Like?
Lung cancer patients usually get chemotherapy on an outpatient basis. That means that you will go to a medical facility (doctor’s office or hospital clinic) to receive treatment and can return home once your treatment is done for the day. For NSCLC, most people get two chemotherapy drugs or combination chemotherapy. There are several chemotherapy drugs available, and your doctor will chose them based on your specific situation. Chemotherapy is given in cycles that last 3 to 4 weeks. You’ll have time off in between cycles so that your body can recover. You may have 4 to 6 treatment cycles of chemotherapy. Although you can expect to feel tired following each treatment, many people can continue to work and enjoy their regular activities while receiving chemotherapy.
What About Side Effects of Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer?
Chemotherapy does have side effects, but not everyone experiences them to the same extent.
“There has been a dramatic change in our ability to minimize side effects over the last few decades,” says Simon. “Modern chemotherapy drugs are more effective and generally less toxic. And many drugs don’t cause hair loss, nerve damage, hearing loss, kidney damage, or allergic reactions.”