Treatment Options

Treatment Options

Today, people facing lung cancer have more treatment options than they did even a few years ago. These new options have significantly increased survival rates. Many of the recent advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment allow us to precisely target your care to be as effective as possible based on the particular features of your disease.

Since everyone’s cancer is different, as are their circumstances, preferences, and beliefs, a treatment that works well for someone else may not be right for you. Your Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) doctors will recommend treatment based on the type and stage of your lung cancer and other factors, such as your general health, potential side effects of treatment, and the probability of curing the disease, extending your life, and relieving your symptoms.

Dr. Michael Mulligan discusses changing lung cancer treatment

Treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, targeted therapy, and clinical studies, also called clinical trials. Many patients receive more than one of these treatments. Supportive care and management of pain and other symptoms, with an emphasis on quality of life, are as important to our doctors as they are to you, and these are part of every patient’s care.

Treatment for Non-small Cell Lung Cancer by Stage

  • Stage I: The main treatment is surgery. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both may be recommended after surgery.
  • Stage II: Surgery is the main treatment, if you are healthy enough for surgery and your tumor can be removed. Chemotherapy with or without radiation may be recommended after surgery.
  • Stage III: Standard treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery, either alone or in combination. Patients may also consider participating in clinical studies.
    • Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both may be used to shrink the tumor before surgery.
    • Chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy may be used after surgery to improve the chance of a cure.
    • If surgery is not an option, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are usually given together.
  • Stage IV: Treatments include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, clinical studies, and supportive care, alone or in combination.

Treatment for Small Cell Lung Cancer by Stage

  • Limited: Treatments include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, clinical studies, and supportive care, alone or in combination.
  • Extensive space: Treatments include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, clinical studies, and supportive care, alone or in combination.

Surgery may be an option for limited stage small cell lung cancer (SCLC), but it is rarely used because most SCLC is found after it has spread too far for surgery to be effective. Preventive radiation to the brain (prophylactic cranial irradiation) may be given after initial treatment to decrease the risk of cancer spreading to the brain.

Follow-Up Care

Your doctor will continue to watch you closely after you’ve completed treatment. Follow-up is needed to check for cancer recurrence or spread, as well as possible side effects of treatment. Your follow-up visits may be scheduled every four to six months for the first two years after treatment and annually thereafter.

More About Supportive Care

When treatments offer little chance for a cure, your doctor may recommend you avoid harsh treatments and opt for only supportive care. If you’re receiving supportive care, your doctor may treat signs and symptoms to make you feel more comfortable, but you won’t receive treatment aimed at stopping your cancer. Supportive care, also called palliative care, allows you to make the most of your life without enduring treatment side effects that can affect you negatively.

Suspected or Newly Diagnosed Lung Cancer

If you or someone you know is suspected of having lung cancer or has recently been diagnosed, you’re probably thinking hard about what to do next. Your most important decision is selecting where to get treatment.


Your doctors may recommend chemotherapy to treat your lung cancer. Chemotherapy enters the bloodstream and targets cancer cells throughout your body. It can slow cancer’s growth and keep it from spreading.


Several operations, including video-assisted thoracic surgery, can be performed to treat lung cancer. SCCA patients with this disease have surgery at University of Washington Medical Center by some of the country’s best thoracic surgeons.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy particles or beams, may be used in several ways to treat lung cancer. It may be the main treatment, or it may be used before or after surgery and with or without chemotherapy.

Proton Therapy

Proton therapy is a precise form of radiation treatment that targets protons at tumors to kill cancer cells, while significantly limiting radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapies are newer drugs that target a gene or protein responsible for allowing cancer to grow. They work differently than standard chemotherapy drugs and often have different, sometimes less severe, side effects.