January 20, 2023

When is Radiation Therapy Used to Treat Lung Cancer?

When is Radiation Therapy Used to Treat Lung Cancer?

Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, is often used in a few different ways to treat lung cancer. The oncology team overseeing your care will consider several factors when determining if and when radiation therapy should be part of the lung cancer treatment process.

There can be different treatment goals for radiation therapy. Sometimes, radiotherapy is used to reduce the tumor size before surgery or to kill any remaining cancer cells in the body left after surgery, but it can also be used to shrink lung cancer tumors that are causing pain or other symptoms in distant parts of the body. It is often combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or targeted therapy.

How Radiation Therapy Works

External beam radiation is the most common way to administer radiation to treat lung cancer. A machine called a linear accelerator is used to direct high-energy beams to the cancerous area(s). During each treatment, you’ll lie down under the linear accelerator in the exact same position. The radiation machine does not touch you and, in some cases, will rotate around you. Treatment is provided over the course of several weeks during outpatient visits.

Radiation can also be given internally, called high-dose rate brachytherapy. Internal radiation is more commonly used when lung cancer affects air passages. Brachytherapy uses radioactive seeds, ribbons, or capsules that are briefly placed inside the body. The seeds deliver radiation to the cancerous area for a few minutes and are then removed, although they are left inside the body in a few cases.

The radiation oncologist works closely with the medical oncologist and surgeon if surgery is performed. Together they will determine the right timing for each type of treatment based on the type of lung cancer, stage of lung cancer, and the tumor’s location and size.


Types of External Beam Radiation Used To Treat Lung Cancer

Both types of lung cancer, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), can be treated with external beam radiation technologies:

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) delivers radiation to an exact area, which reduces damage to healthy tissue surrounding the cancer. Computed tomography (CT) scans produce three-dimensional images that maximize the precision of the radiation dose. Computer software regulates the beam’s size and shape. The CT images allow radiation beams to be varied according to the intensity and specific angles.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) uses a high radiation dose focused on a small area(s) in or around the tumor, specifically the tumors outside the brain, spinal cord, or liver. SBRT delivers radiation doses of different intensities, making it an excellent option for patients with small, well-defined tumors who cannot tolerate surgery. Its precision also limits damage to healthy tissue.

When Is Radiation Therapy Used On Lung Cancer Patients?

The right timing for radiation therapy depends on quite a few factors related to the type of lung cancer, where it’s located in the lungs, and whether it’s gone beyond the lungs.

Before Surgery

Some patients receive radiation before surgery. This is most common for patients who have one or more of these situations:

  • Patients with early-stage, non-small cell lung cancer may receive radiation as their first treatment method. The radiation shrinks large tumors and reduces the tissue that needs surgery. It makes it easier for the surgeon to remove the tumor and reduces your risk of recurring cancer. This is called neoadjuvant therapy.

  • Patients whose tumor is very large or too close to other internal structures, including blood vessels, can benefit from radiotherapy before surgery.

  • Patients with late-stage, non-small cell lung cancer may receive radiotherapy to shrink tumors that have spread beyond the lung(s).

  • Patients that are not healthy enough to tolerate chemotherapy or targeted therapy drugs may only receive radiotherapy.

  • Patients whose tumor is hard to remove during surgery frequently combine radiation with chemotherapy.

  • Patients who do not have the option of surgery will usually have radiotherapy.

Radiation After Surgery

Radiation may be given after surgery, even if you had it before as well. This approach ensures that any cancer cells left behind during surgery are killed. It’s also used for patients with pain or other symptoms after surgery.

Radiation Therapy For Lung Cancer That’s Spread To Other Parts Of The Body

Patients whose initial lung cancer has spread to other parts of their body (metastasized) can benefit from radiation therapy to reduce the size of the tumors. Even if distant cancer can’t be completely eliminated, radiation can help relieve the pain the tumor may be causing.

Radiation Therapy To Help Prevent Lung Cancer From Recurring

Patients with small-cell lung cancer are more likely to have cancer appear in the brain after the initial lung cancer treatments are completed. As a precaution to help prevent cancer from developing in the brain, these patients may receive radiation to the brain. This is called prophylactic radiation therapy.

Side Effects Of Lung Cancer Radiotherapy

Before you begin treatment, talk to your lung cancer doctor about the benefits, risks, and potential side effects of radiation treatment. Radiation therapy given to patients in any of the above situations may cause these side effects:

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fatigue

  • Skin irritation, redness, or peeling at the site where radiation is given

  • Swallowing problems are more likely for those who have cancer in the area near the esophagus.

  • Sore throat

  • Cough

  • Loss of appetite

  • Hair loss in treatment areas

  • Dizziness

Keep your oncologist informed about your side effects during and after treatment. Treatment is available for most symptoms, and your oncologist will have suggestions about ways to relieve them.

Find the Latest Radiation Therapies in the South Chicago Suburbs

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, or you have recurrent lung cancer, it’s important to have a cancer care team using the latest technologies to develop a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan. You’re going to have a lot of appointments during the treatment process. Staying close to home can really benefit you and your loved ones helping you. Affiliated Oncologists has clinics throughout the South Chicago suburbs, including Chicago Ridge, Hazel Crest, Mokena, Oak Lawn, and Palos Heights, Illinois. Request a consultation with one of our cancer specialists.


Categories: Lung Cancer