Affiliated Oncologists remains open while making accommodations for the health and safety of our patients. If you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19 including fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath, please call our office before you arrive. View More Information

Education Resources

Lung Cancer Treatment Options

There are various treatment options available for lung cancer. While standard treatment typically includes surgical resection, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, there are newer and more advanced options that may be available. Treatment options are based on the size, type, and stage of your lung cancer.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

In addition to standard treatments, patients with SCLC may be able to be helped with treatments being tested in clinical trials (potential new treatments).

A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Talk with your cancer care team at Affiliated Oncologists to see if a clinical trial is right for you. Learn more about the clinical trials in our network with US Oncology.

There are 6 types of standard small cell lung cancer treatment, which include:

Surgery:

Surgery may be planned if the cancer is found in one lung and in nearby lymph nodes only. However, small cell lung cancer is usually found in both lungs and surgery alone is not used often.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the operation, you may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may remain. Treatment that is given after the surgery to lower the risk that the cancer will come back is called adjuvant therapy.

Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Since lung cancer tends to spread quickly throughout the body, chemo is often given as it reaches cancer cells that have extended past the lungs. Chemotherapy for SCLC also can be administered as:

  • Chemoradiation: Chemotherapy is used along with radiation therapy for patients with limited stage SCLC.
  • Primary Treatment: Chemotherapy is used alone as the main treatment for some patients with advanced stage SCLC.

The type and stage of the cancer being treated determines the way chemotherapy is given.

  • Systemic chemotherapy: This type of chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle. The drugs enter the bloodstream and can get to cancer cells anywhere in the body.
  • Regional chemotherapy: When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas.

Radiation therapy:

Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing. The type and stage of the cancer being treated determines the way radiation therapy is given. Radiation therapy is used often in a treatment plan of NSCLC, most often along with surgery and sometimes chemotherapy.

The two types of radiation therapies are:

  • External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer.​
  • Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, catheters, seeds or wires that are placed directly into or near the cancer.

Immunotherapy:

Immunotherapy drugs are used to help the body’s immune system kill cancer cells. Currently, lung cancer immunotherapy belongs to a class called checkpoint inhibitors. These “checkpoints” — proteins on immune cells that need to be turned on (or off) to start an immune response — are what the immune system uses to keep itself from attacking normal cells. Cancer cells sometimes use these checkpoints to avoid being attacked by the immune system. But drugs that target these checkpoints can be used in the treatment plan for people with non-small cell lung cancer. Immunotherapy is normally given intravenously (through an IV) every 2 to 3 weeks.

Endoscopic stent placement:

An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument used to look at tissues inside the body. An endoscope has a light and a lens for viewing and may be used to place a stent in a body structure to keep the structure open. Endoscopic stent placement can be used to open an airway blocked by abnormal tissue. In some cases, follow-up tests may be needed.

Laser therapy:

Laser therapy is a cancer treatment that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) to kill the cancer cells.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Depending on the stage of the non-small cell lung cancer, the treatment plan can be adjusted. Below is an idea of what treatment plans may look like for each of the stages:

Treatment for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer by Stage

  • Occult Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer treatment depends upon where the cancer has spread. It can usually be cured by surgery.
  • Stage 0 treatment may include:
    • Surgery (wedge resection or segmental resection)
    • Photodynamic therapy using an endoscope
    • Electrocautery, cryosurgery, or laser surgery using an endoscope
  • Stage I treatment may include:
    • Surgery (wedge resection, segmental resection, sleeve resection, or lobectomy).
    • External radiation therapy (for patients who cannot have surgery or choose not to have surgery)
    • A clinical trial of surgery followed by chemoprevention
  • Stage II treatment may include:
    • Surgery (wedge resection, segmental resection, sleeve resection, lobectomy, or pneumonectomy)
    • External radiation therapy (for patients who cannot have surgery or choose not to have surgery)
    • Surgery followed by chemotherapy
  • Stage III non-small cell lung cancer treatment is divided into Stage IIIA, Stage IIIB, and Stage IIIC:
    • Stage IIIA: Non-small cell lung cancer that can be removed with surgery may include:
      • Surgery followed by chemotherapy
      • Surgery followed by radiation therapy
      • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed by surgery
    • Stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer that cannot be removed with surgery may include:
      • External radiation therapy alone for patients who cannot be treated with combined therapy
      • Chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy
    • Some Stage IIIA non-small cell lung tumors that have grown into the chest wall may be completely removed, and treatment of chest wall tumors may include:
      • Surgery
      • Surgery and radiation therapy
      • Radiation therapy alone
      • Chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy and/or surgery
    • Stage IIIB and Stage IIIC treatment may include:
      • Chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy
      • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed by immunotherapy
      • External radiation therapy as palliative therapy, to relieve pain and other symptoms and improve the quality of life
  • Stage IV treatment may include:
    • External radiation therapy as palliative therapy, to relieve pain and other symptoms and improve the quality of life
    • Combination chemotherapy
    • Combination chemotherapy and targeted therapy
    • Laser therapy and/or internal radiation therapy using an endoscope
    • Surgery
    • Stereotactic radiosurgery for tumors that have spread

While not as common, immunotherapy may sometimes be used for treating NSCLC. Immunotherapy is normally given through an IV every 2 to 3 weeks.

Follow-up Tests or Check-ups for Both Small Cell and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Sometimes, certain tests that were done to diagnose the cancer, or to find out the stage of the cancer, may be repeated. In some cases, it’s to evaluate whether treatment appears to be successful. In others, the results are used to help make decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based upon the results of these tests. This process is sometimes called re-staging.

Even after treatment has ended, some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time. The results of these tests, sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups, can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has returned.