Treatment options for lung cancer depend on the type of cancer, stage, location in the body, and the patient’s overall health and personal goals.
Out of the two primary types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common, accounting for 80 to 85 percent of cases, while small cell lung cancer (SCLC) only accounts for 10 to 15 percent. Treatment options are based on the type of lung cancer you have, as well as the size and stage of the cancer. Once your oncologist has determined the lung cancer’s profile, they will present you with a personalized treatment plan.
Lung cancer patients may receive one or a combination of the following treatments, including:
Advancements in Lung Cancer Treatment
Therapies approved for lung cancer treatment have increased significantly in recent years. This has offered new treatment options for lung cancer patients and more approaches for treating this disease. Learn about advances in immunotherapy, targeted therapies, and clinical trials for lung cancer.
Surgery to Remove Lung Cancer
While surgery can be an option for some early-stage small cell lung cancer (SCLC), it is most commonly used to treat early stages of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The reason it is rarely used as the primary treatment of SCLC is because by the time this type of lung cancer is diagnosed, it has usually spread past the lungs. Lung cancer surgery can involve removing a portion of the lung or the entire lung through procedures such as lobectomy, segmentectomy, wedge resection, and pneumonectomy.
Even if the doctor removes all of the cancer that can be seen at the time of the operation, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may remain. Treatment that is given after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer coming back is called adjuvant therapy.
Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer
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.
The type and stage of the lung 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 for Lung Cancer
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. The type and stage of the cancer being treated determines the way radiation therapy is given.
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.
It’s important that you work with a radiation oncologist who is conveniently located near your home if you’re going to have daily external radiation therapy for a month or two. Affiliated Oncologists offers radiation therapy throughout the South Chicago suburbs including: Mokena, Hazel Crest, Palos Heights and Oak Lawn.
Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer
Immunotherapy also called biologic therapy, is a treatment that uses drugs to help the body’s immune system kill cancer cells. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer.
Checkpoint inhibitors are the type of immunotherapy drugs used to treat NSCLC and some cases of advanced SCLC. 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. Immune checkpoints are molecules on the immune cells that can start or stop an immune response. Cancer cells sometimes use these checkpoints to avoid being attacked by the immune system. These medications allow the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
The rapid development of immunotherapies for lung cancer has taken place over the last few years, showing to be effective alone and in combination with chemotherapy or radiation. Recent studies have shown that certain patients can obtain a long-term response with immunotherapy.
Cancer treatment vaccines (also called therapeutic vaccines) and adoptive T-cell therapy are other types of immunotherapy that are being studied in clinical trials.
Targeted Therapy Based on Biomarkers
Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that targets proteins that control how cancer cells grow, divide, and spread. This precision leaves healthy cells alone, which reduces side effects that often come with other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Monoclonal antibodies, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors are the three types of targeted therapy being used to treat certain types of lung cancer.
Late-stage non-small lung cancer patients may go through biomarker testing, also called genomic testing, to look for genetic mutations in the cancer cells. If one of a few specific genetic mutations are found in the cancer cells, the recommended treatment will be based on that.
There are currently FDA-approved targeted therapies for non-small cell lung cancer tumors showing the following genetic mutations:
A different treatment plan will be recommended for patients who do not test positive for a biomarker with an approved targeted therapy. They may also be eligible for a clinical trial that is identifying treatments based on other biomarkers found outside of those with an established targeted therapy.
Laser Therapy for Lung Cancer
Laser therapy is the use of a very powerful beam of light to destroy cancer cells. Sometimes, it is used to open up the airways of patients whose cancer is making it hard to breathe.
While under general anesthesia, the oncologist inserts the laser with a bronchoscope and then aims the beam at the tumor to burn it away. If needed, the treatment may be repeated.
Clinical Trials for Lung Cancer as Part of Some Patients’ Treatment Plans
The oncologist may suggest a clinical trial for lung cancer, if you are eligible. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments that aren’t yet widely available for lung cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients who have not started treatment may want to consider taking part in a clinical trial.
Follow-up Tests or Check-ups for Both Small Cell and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Certain tests that were done to diagnose lung cancer, or to find out the stage of the cancer, might need to be repeated. Sometimes, this is done to see whether treatment appears to be successful. Other times, the results are used to help make decisions about whether to continue, adjust, or stop treatment. 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.
Lung Cancer Treatment Available in the South Chicago Suburbs
If you have been newly diagnosed with lung cancer, the first step is to schedule a consultation with one of the lung cancer specialists at Affiliated Oncologists. If you’re in the South Chicago area, we offer personalized treatment plans and second opinions on treatment in Chicago Ridge, Mokena, Hazel Crest, Oak Lawn, and Palos Heights.