Lung cancer is treated based on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the patient’s general health status and ability to withstand the treatment. Which type of treatment a patient has will depend on whether they have non-small-cell lung cancer or small cell lung cancer. The main treatment approaches are surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of two or more of these, depending on how advanced the cancer is.
Non-small-cell lung cancer
Non-small-cell lung cancer is the more common form of lung cancer. When this cancer has not spread beyond the lung and the patient is in an overall good state of health, surgery is usually recommended to remove the tumor. This may be followed up with chemotherapy to destroy any cancer cells remaining in the body.
In cases where non-small-cell lung cancer is confined to the lung, but the patient’s health is too poor to permit surgery, radiotherapy is usually recommended to destroy the cancer cells. Radiotherapy may also be combined with chemotherapy, a combination referred to as chemoradiotherapy.
If the non-small-cell lung cancer has spread to the extent that neither surgery or radiotherapy would be effective, a course of chemotherapy is usually advised. If the cancer recurs after chemotherapy, a further course my be administered.
Small-cell lung cancer
This is the less common form of lung cancer and is generally treated using chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This form of lung cancer is more aggressive and spreads more quickly than non-small-cell lung cancer, meaning surgery is not an appropriate treatment option by time the condition is diagnosed.
If small cell cancer is caught early, it may be possible to treat surgically, and this is usually followed up with chemotherapy or radiotherapy to help reduce the risk of recurrence.
There are three types of surgery that may be performed to treat lung cancer and these include the following:
- Wedge resection or segmentectomy – This is used to remove a small tumor that is still confined to one area of the lung, which usually only occurs in the very early stages of non-small-cell lung cancer.
- Lobectomy– Here, at least one of the large lung parts (lobes) where the cancer is located, are removed.
- Pneumonectomy – The whole lung is removed due to cancer that has affected the central part of the lung or spread throughout it. It is possible for patients to breathe after this procedure, using just the one lung.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc