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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: When You Need More Than One Treatment

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Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer continued...

External radiation may be used to treat NSCLC in several ways, depending on the type and stage of the lung cancer.

  • It can be used in place of surgery for patients who are not healthy enough for surgery or if the tumor can’t be removed by surgery.
  • It may be used with chemotherapy to treat Stage III cancers. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be given at the same time. If a patient is not healthy enough to have combination therapy, then treatments will be given one after another.
  • It can also be used as palliative therapy in late stage cancer to lessen symptoms and relieve pain.

External beam radiation therapy will not make you radioactive. However, some healthy tissue may be harmed along with cancer cells during treatment, so you may notice some side effects. These include:

  • Sunburn-like redness on the skin where the radiation is focused
  • Irritation of the esophagus
  • Fatigue

Most of these side effects go away after treatment ends.

A new form of radiation therapy, called stereotactic body radiation (SBRT), is becoming widely used in patients with early stage cancer who are not able to have surgery. This treatment uses highly targeted, high-dose radiation that kills cancer cells while sparing normal tissue. “SBRT is a more precise therapy, and it has few side effects. It’s becoming a standard of care for early stage NSCLC,” says Schild.

Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Usually given by injection, the drugs travel throughout the body in the bloodstream, so chemo is useful for metastasized cancers.

“In the last 6 or 7 years, there has been a revolution in how chemotherapy is used for treatment of NSCLC,” says Azzoli. “In 2003, studies first reported the benefits of using chemotherapy as adjuvant therapy. Prior to that, chemotherapy was not routinely given to patients with stage I or stage II cancer. Now medical oncologists see more early stage lung cancer patients. We discovered that by adding chemotherapy to surgery or to radiation treatment at earlier stages, more patients can be cured.”

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