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

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Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer continued...

Depending upon a person’s health, the stage of lung cancer, and the type of cancer, chemotherapy may be used in several ways:

  • After surgery as adjuvant therapy to help kill any remaining cancer cells
  • Before surgery to control the disease prior to surgery. This is called neoadjuvant therapy.
  • With radiation therapy, either one after another or at the same time. Chemotherapy given simultaneously with radiation therapy is called chemoradiation.
  • As a single therapy
  • With a targeted therapy (drugs that inhibit cancer growth and development)

Chemotherapy treatment should begin within two months after lung cancer surgery. The decision about which chemotherapy drugs to use is based on a number of factors. Usually, two chemo drugs are used together. This is called combination chemotherapy. For people in poor health, only one drug may be used. For patients with advanced cancer who meet certain requirements, a targeted therapy may be added to combination chemotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy is given in cycles of 3 to 4 weeks, with time off between cycles to allow your body to recover. In general, you will receive 4 to 6 cycles of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy works by killing rapidly growing cancer cells. But the drugs can’t tell the difference between cancer cells and other cells in the body that also divide quickly. These types of cells occur in hair follicles, bone marrow, and the lining of the intestines and mouth. As a result, these healthy cells may become damaged, leading to side effects such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Increased risk of infection

Advances in chemotherapy drugs and in the drugs used to treat side effects have eliminated certain side effects for people receiving chemotherapy for NSCLC. In many cases, you won’t lose your hair. Tell your doctor if you feel nauseous, as there are effective treatments to help. Often, patients receiving chemotherapy can continue to work and remain active. In most cases, side effects from chemotherapy go away after therapy has stopped.

Clinical Trials for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

“Over the years, treatment for NSCLC has steadily improved,” says Schild. “But we aren’t where we want to be yet. So we frequently recommend that lung cancer patients consider participating in a clinical trial.”

These research studies use volunteer patients to test new treatments and procedures. Ask your doctor if there are studies for which you may be eligible.

Your health care team can help you weigh all the treatment options so you can make the best choice for you.

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Reviewed on March 26, 2010

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