How to Treat Lung Cancer

Three Methods:Evaluating the Type of CancerSeeking Medical Treatment For Lung CancerConsidering Other Options

Lung cancer is a serious condition. You may feel scared and hopeless after you hear the diagnosis. However, there are many treatment options available for lung cancer. Treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, targeted therapy, and even clinical research trials. Learn how to treat lung cancer so you can choose the right plan for you.

Method 1
Evaluating the Type of Cancer

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    Get a biopsy. Before you can start any kind of treatment for lung cancer, you need to get a biopsy of the lung. A biopsy will let your doctor know that you have cancer and what type of cancer you have.[1]
    • During a biopsy, the doctor will get a small tissue sample of your lung. They can do this through a needle, a tube sent into the lungs, through the chest wall, or through an incision. After they get the tissue sample, they check the sample under a microscope for cancerous cells.[2]
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    Determine the stage cancer you have. Lung cancer is divided into four different stages. Stages refer to the severity of the cancer. The stage of lung cancer you have may influence your treatment options.[3]
    • Stage I cancer is when the area affected by the cancer is small. It is usually only in one area of the lung. Surgery is often used to treat this stage of cancer.
    • Stage II and III is when the cancer has progressed and infected a larger area of the lungs. The cancer may have spread to surrounding tissues. The cancer may also be in the lymph nodes. A combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation is common for stage II and III cancers.[4]
    • Stage IV is the most advanced stage of cancer. This means the cancer has spread beyond the lungs into other parts of the body. For stage IV lung cancer, all treatments are options for helping you live longer and reducing any symptoms.[5]
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    Identify the type of lung cancer. If you have lung cancer, you can have either small cell lung cancer or non-small cell lung cancer. Most lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer grows more quickly than the other type.[6]
    • Small cell lung cancer generally responds better to chemotherapy. Non-small cell lung cancer is treated with various types of treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, among others.
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    Create a treatment plan. After you are diagnosed with lung cancer, you will work with a multidisciplinary cancer care team to come up with your treatment plan. This team consists of different doctors, oncology nurses, pharmacists, physician assistants, dietitians, counselors, or other health care professionals.[7]
    • Your doctors will work together to come up with a plan of care for your treatment. You may decide to use a combination of treatments, depending on your specific case.
    • Your treatment plan will be based on the type and stage of lung cancer you have, the location of the cancer, your overall health, and what you approve to be done.[8]
    • If you do not feel your doctors are working together or communicating, speak with them. If you feel uncomfortable with your team, go get a second opinion or find a new set of doctors.

Method 2
Seeking Medical Treatment For Lung Cancer

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    Undergo surgery. Surgery is one common treatment for non-small cell lung cancer. Surgery is an option if you have stage I or stage II cancer. During surgery, the cancerous tumor is removed. To do this, the surgeon has to remove the part of the lung that contains the tumor.[9]
    • Depending on how big the tumor is, the surgeon may only take a small section of the lung or they might take the whole lobe or the entire lung.
    • Oftentimes, some nearby lymph nodes will be removed as well. These lymph nodes will be checked for cancer cells.
    • Removing the entire lobe is often chosen over removing a small section because that has a higher chance of curing the cancer.
    • If there are cancer cells near the edge of the tissue removed during the surgery, you may need a second surgery to go back and get any remaining cancerous tissue.
    • Some people cannot undergo surgery due to poor health.[10]
    • Surgery is used most often with non-small cell lung cancer, along with radiation therapy.[11]
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    Get chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is used for all stages of non-small cell lung cancer. It may be used after surgery, along with radiation, or for advanced stage cancer that has spread. Chemotherapy uses medication to kill cancer cells or prevent them from dividing, which keeps the cells from growing. Chemotherapy treatment is either done orally, intravenously, through an injection into a muscle, or placed directly into the affected area of the body.[12]
    • The type of chemotherapy you will receive depends on the stage and type of cancer. You may be given a combination of different drugs.
    • Chemotherapy usually takes weeks or months of treatments.[13]
    • In early stages of cancer, chemotherapy can help reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
    • Chemotherapy is most often used with small cell lung cancer, along with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy used in non-small cell lung cancer is usually to help with other treatment methods.[14]
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    Undergo radiation therapy. Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, is a common cancer treatment. During radiation, high-powered x-rays, proton beams, and other radiation are used to stop the growth and destroy cancer cells. Radiation can be done externally by placing the machine over the affected area. It can be done internally by introducing radioactive substances into the body near the cancer through needles, seeds, wires, or catheters.[15][16]
    • Radiation may be the only treatment used to treat your cancer.
    • Radiation may be used in conjunction with other therapies. For example, you may have radiation before you have surgery to shrink the size of the tumor, or you may have it after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
    • Radiation is also used when cancer spreads to other parts of the body to treat cancer in those areas.[17]
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    Look into other treatments. There are other less common treatments for non-small cell lung cancer that you can consider. These alternatives may be used if a patient can’t have surgery, can’t undergo anesthesia, cancer has come back, or in advanced cancer cases. These treatments may not be available in all hospitals.[18]
    • Photodynamic therapy uses a combination of drugs and laser lights to target cancer cells.
    • Laser therapy is when a laser beam is used to target and kill cancer cells.
    • Cryosurgery utilizes a special instrument. This instrument freezes and kills cancerous tissues.
    • Electrocautery is when electrically heated needles or probes kills cancerous tissue.[19]
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    Think about targeted therapy. Targeted therapy is a newer type of cancer treatment. In this treatment, you are given medication that helps contain cancer cells by stopping them from growing and spreading.[20] This type of therapy may be better because it has been shown to be less harmful to normal, healthy cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy.[21]
    • Chemotherapy drugs stop all cells from replicating, including cancer cells, which is effective in killing cancer cells. However, because they effect all cells, healthy cells are also stopped from replicating when they need to. This causes severe side effects. Targeted therapy leaves healthy cells alone while fighting only cancer cells.
    • Targeted therapy fights cancer-causing processes in cancer cells. However, targeted therapy is not strong enough yet to kill the cancer cells alone. That means usually it is used in combination with chemotherapy to stop cancer cells and kill them. Because fewer chemotherapy drugs are used, the side effects are less than if you were just receiving chemotherapy.[22]
    • Targeted therapy can be taken orally or given intravenously.

Method 3
Considering Other Options

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    Get a second opinion. If you are unhappy with the treatment options that your doctor or care team has given you, get a second opinion. There is no harm in getting checked out by a different doctor and gaining more insight into your condition and treatment options.[23]
    • Don’t feel that you have to stick with a doctor just because you went to them first. Don’t think that you can’t question what a doctor says because they are the doctor. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand, and talk to your care team if you feel uncomfortable with something.
    • A second opinion may give you more confidence about your treatment decision and make the process better for you.
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    Look into cancer centers. Instead of going to a hospital, you may choose to go to a cancer center. Cancer centers have the same medical personnel as a hospital. This includes a surgeon, oncologist, radiologist, oncology nurses, and other professionals. You may have cancer care centers in your area, or the best lung cancer care may be through the oncology department at your hospital.[24]
    • You may consider visiting a cancer center for a second opinion.
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    Become part of a clinical trial. Clinical trials are treatment options you may consider. During a clinical trial, you will be given a new cancer treatment. Your condition will be evaluated to see if the new treatment was safe, effective, or better than the normal treatment. You can find lists of clinical trials online.[25]
    • Clinical trials occur at different parts of treatment. Some clinical trials require people who have never had treatment. Others want patients who have have treatment but seen no improvement, or those who have recurring cancers. Other may focus only on reducing side effects.
    • Clinical trials are a huge part of the cancer research process. Many cancer treatments used today were first tested through clinical trials.
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    Find help. There are different resources you can use to help you as you decide on a treatment plan. Though your cancer care team is your main help, you may want to reach out to others for clarification or help. Many cancer organizations provide help and resources that can be useful.[26]
    • For example, the American Cancer Society provides a 24-hour service to provide support for people dealing with cancer. They also help find rides and lodging, and offer support groups.

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Categories: Cancer | Respiratory Health