Lung Cancer Treatments

Your doctors will plan your lung cancer treatment based on what you need. It will depend in part on:

  • What type of the disease you have
  • Its stage
  • Whether the cancer has spread in your body
  • The side effects the treatment may cause
  • Your age and general health
  • Your preferences and goals

Ask your doctor to explain the recommended treatment plan, including its benefits, side effects, and how it might make you feel during and after it.


This is an option when the cancer hasn’t spread too far in your body. It’s usually the best way to treat non-small-cell lung cancer.

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 might need to stay in the hospital for about a week to heal before you go home to recover. However, minimally invasive procedures are being used more and more often. If you opt for one of those, you may get a tiny incision in the chest. Your surgeon will use a thoracoscope, a flexible tube that is used to examine the chest and get rid of tissue.

If you have small-cell lung cancer, it might not be possible to remove it in an operation.

Radiofrequency Ablation

If you have non-small cell lung cancer and can’t have surgery, this treatment may be an option.

Your doctor guides a thin needle through your skin until it touches the tumor inside your lung. Then an electric current passes through it to heat and kill the cancer cells.


Doctors use a machine to point high-energy X-rays at a tumor to destroy it. It works for both non-small-cell and small-cell lung cancers.

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. Some people get it in combination with chemotherapy.

It can also help relieve some of the symptoms of lung cancer, such as pain or bleeding.



These medicines kill cancer cells in the body. It’s an option for both types of lung cancer.

You might get chemo before or after surgery, combined with radiation therapy. Or it might be your main treatment 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. You may need a few rounds of treatment over several weeks.

Other Treatments

Researchers are constantly looking for better ways to treat lung cancer and help people feel better and live longer. Scientists are studying new combinations of chemotherapy, new forms of radiation, and drugs that make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation.

Drugs that target specific parts of cancer cells or tumors are called targeted treatments. Some of them seem to help control lung cancer that has spread. They include:

Other drugs, such as atezolizumab (Tecentriq), durvalumab (Imfinzi),  nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda), use the body’s own defenses to attack cancer cells. Doctors call these meds immunotherapy.

Home Care After Treatment

If you've had lung cancer surgery, your nurse or doctor can show you how to care for your surgical cut and let you know what things will help you recover.

To ease skin irritation from radiation therapy, wear loose clothes, protect your chest from UV rays by avoiding the sun and wearing sunscreen, and use aloe vera or vitamin E cream. Don’t use other skin lotions unless your doctor says they’re OK. Also, don't let your skin get too hot or cold.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on February 19, 2019



American Cancer Society.

National Cancer Institute.

National Institutes of Health.

American Society of Clinical Oncology.

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