When you’re thinking about treatment for lung cancer, it helps to know as much about your disease as you can, especially the type you have. That helps you and your doctor know which therapies are more likely to help. Most people have non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), but about 10% to 15% have small-cell lung cancer.
Once your doctor knows which type you have, she will recommend treatments based on:
“We work in a team when it comes to planning care for a lung cancer patient,” says Steven E. Schild, MD, professor and chairman of the department of radiation oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. This means that you will be working with one or more of the following specialists:
Pulmonologist – a lung specialist
Medical Oncologist – a doctor who specializes in cancer treatments
Thoracic Surgeon – a doctor who specializes in chest surgery
Radiation Oncologist – a doctor who...
Your preferences and what you want to get out of treatment
Each treatment for lung cancer will have different side effects, like pain, nausea, and feeling weak or tired. When you’re choosing a therapy, ask your doctor to explain how it might make you feel during and after treatment. That will help you know what to expect before you begin.
The most common treatments are:
Surgery. This is an option when the cancer hasn’t spread too far in your body. It’s usually the best way to treat NSCLC. People with small-cell lung cancer don’t usually get surgery. Your doctor can remove the part of the lung that has the tumor and the tissue around it, or you may need to have your entire lung removed. You might also need radiation or chemotherapy after surgery.
After the operation, you’ll need to stay in the hospital for about a week to heal before you go home to recover.
Radiofrequency ablation. People with NSCLC who can’t have surgery may get this treatment. A thin needle goes through your skin until it touches the tumor inside your lung. Then an electric current heats and kills the cancer cells. It’s an option for tumors that doctors may not be able to remove with surgery.
Radiation. Doctors use a machine to point high-energy X-rays at a tumor to destroy it. It works for NSCLC and small cell lung cancer. You get radiation treatments a few days at a time over several weeks. You might get it before surgery to shrink a tumor to make it easier to remove, or after surgery to kill any cancer cells left behind.It can also help relieve some of the symptoms of lung cancer, like pain or bleeding.
Chemotherapy. This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells in the body. It’s an option for both types of lung cancer. You might have it before or after surgery, or as your main treatment option if surgery won’t work for you. Your doctor may prescribe one type of chemo drug or a mix of different ones. You’ll get them through an IV at a treatment center or hospital. It may take a few rounds of treatment over a few days or weeks.