Radiation treatment is the use of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Most radiation for lung cancer is given externally, which means that the radiation comes from a machine outside the body.
Radiation is often used in combination with surgery or chemotherapy or both. But it may be used alone if surgery is not possible.
People who can't have surgery may have a special type of radiation called stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS). This isn't surgery but a series of very high doses of radiation that are aimed at the cancer. SRS is usually given to treat tumors that have spread to the brain. SRS may also be called gamma knife radiosurgery, cyberknife, stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), or stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT).
Radiation also may be used as palliative care to:
- Shrink tumors that make it hard for you to swallow.
- Reduce tumors that block your airway and make it hard for you to breathe.
- Relieve pain from cancer that has spread to your bones or spinal cord.
Other medical treatments
- Targeted therapy with monoclonal antibodies and tyrosine kinase inhibitors may be used to treat NSCLC. Monoclonal antibodies, such as bevacizumab and cetuximab, can kill cancer cells, block their growth, and keep cancer from spreading. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors, such as erlotinib and gefitinib, can stop tumors from growing by blocking signals inside cancer cells.
- Laser therapy uses a narrow beam of very intense light to destroy cancer cells. This treatment may be used to remove tumors that block the airway.
- Photodynamic therapy uses laser light to kill cancer cells. It's used as palliative treatment to destroy tumors that block the airway.
- Electrocautery uses a probe or needle to burn (cauterize) abnormal tissue or tumors.
- Cryosurgery (also called cryoablation) freezes the tumor and kills it.
- Radiofrequency ablation uses a small needle inserted through the skin and into the tumor. Energy passes through the needle into the tumor. This heats and kills cancer cells. It also closes up the little blood vessels in the area so there is less bleeding.
- Stents -small, wire-mesh tubes-may be inserted into a blocked airway and expanded to hold the airway open.
- Watchful waiting means that you are being watched closely by your doctor but not having treatment until you show symptoms or a change of some kind.
People sometimes use complementary treatments along with medical treatment to help relieve symptoms and side effects of cancer treatments. Some of the complementary therapies that may be helpful include:
- Acupuncture to relieve pain.
- Meditation or yoga to relieve stress.
- Light massage (not deep tissue or intense pressure) or biofeedback to ease tension.
- Breathing exercises for relaxation.
Before you try a complementary therapy, talk to your doctor about the possible value and potential side effects. Let your doctor know if you are already using any such therapies. They are not meant to take the place of standard medical treatment.