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Lung Cancer Treatment

What Are the Treatments for Lung Cancer?

As far as treatment goes, if the lung cancer can be successfully removed with surgery, the patient has an excellent chance of surviving at least one year, and usually a better than 50% chance of living for five years or more after that. The challenge is detecting lung cancer early enough to make surgery possible.

Lung Cancer Surgery

The decision to perform surgery is based not only on the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread but also on the patient's overall health. Many patients with lung cancer -- especially smokers -- have existing lung or heart problems that make surgery difficult. Cancer that has spread to lymph nodes between the lungs was once considered inoperable, but combining surgery with chemotherapy afterward and occasionally adding radiation therapy has improved cure rates.

When feasible, the preferred treatment for non-small-cell lung cancer is surgery. During the operation, the surgeon removes the tumor along with surrounding lung tissue and lymph nodes; often the entire lung must be taken out.

After lung cancer surgery, patients stay in the hospital for several days and receive drugs to control pain.

Radiation and Chemotherapy After Lung Cancer Surgery

After lung cancer surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may be necessary to kill remaining cancer cells, but it is usually delayed for at least a month while the surgical wound heals. Non-small-cell lung cancers that cannot be treated with surgery are usually treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy and Combination Therapy

Because of its tendency to spread extensively, small-cell lung cancer is typically treated with combination chemotherapy -- the use of more than one drug -- often in conjunction with radiation therapy. On rare occasions, surgery is recommended if the cancer is thought to be at a very early stage.

Patients whose cancers have metastasized, or spread to distant sites, are usually treated with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is often used to treat symptoms within the lungs. Since metastatic lung cancer is very difficult to cure, the main goals of treatment are to provide comfort and prolong life. Current treatments can shrink tumors, which may lessen pain and other symptoms. Patients with advanced lung cancer commonly take medication to control pain. Morphine and its various derivatives are widely used and extremely effective in the management of cancer pain.

Recent data suggests that chemotherapy may help prevent recurrence of lung cancer in patients in the early stage of the disease.

Lung Cancer Treatment on the Horizon

Researchers are constantly looking for better ways to treat lung cancer, relieve symptoms, and improve patients' quality of life. New combinations of chemotherapy, new forms of radiation, and the use of drugs that make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation are being studied. Experimental laser surgery has successfully reduced or eliminated tumors obstructing bronchi, thereby improving breathing.

New drugs that target growth factor receptors and the tumor blood supply have been encouraging in helping to control advanced lung cancer.

At-Home Care for Lung Cancer

If you've had lung cancer surgery, your nurse or doctor can show you special exercises to improve your breathing and strengthen your chest muscles. You can relieve skin irritation associated with radiation therapy by wearing loose clothes, protecting your chest from the sun, and using aloe vera or vitamin E cream. However, avoid using other skin lotions unless approved by your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arnold Wax, MD on February 08, 2012

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