Today, men and women facing lung cancer have more treatment options than they did even a few years ago. These new treatments have significantly increased survival rates for people with lung cancer.
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.
Two Types of Lung Cancer
There are two types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. The treatment your SCCA doctors recommend will depend on the type of lung cancer you have, how far the disease has progressed, and other factors, such as your general health. Listen to Michael Mulligan, MD, world-renown thoracic surgeon, discuss lung cancer treatment at SCCA below.
If you have not already had a biopsy, your doctors may do one to gather information about your cancer that will help them make decisions about your treatment. Tissue samples from your cancer will be removed and examined by a pathologist.
The doctors will also perform tests to determine the extent of cancer, also know as the cancer stage. These tests may show whether your cancer is likely to respond to certain types of treatment. They allow doctors to determine whether surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or some combination of therapies provides the best chance for cancer control.
Treatment for Non-small Cell Lung Cancer
For people with stage I or II non-small cell lung cancer, the standard treatment is surgery in which a portion of the lung is removed. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy or targeted therapy may be performed after surgery (called adjuvant therapy) to remove any cancer cells that may be left in the body to reduce the risk of recurrence.
For patients who refuse surgery or are not surgical candidates and who have stage I or II non-small cell lung cancer, radiation therapy may be an option.
For people with stage III disease, surgery will not be enough treatment to cure the disease because it has already spread, and in some cases, surgery is not recommended at all. Patients with stage IIIa or IIIb disease will have chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and they may or may not have surgery. Those who have stage IIIB disease with pleural effusion or who have stage IV disease will need to have life-long chemotherapy to keep their disease in remission. They will be closely monitored by their doctors as well.
Treatment for Small Cell Lung Cancer
Most people who have small cell lung cancer will be treated with chemotherapy. This type of cancer is fast growing. Those with limited-stage disease often receive radiation therapy along with chemotherapy starting in the second or third month of chemotherapy. Patients with extensive-stage cancer are treated with chemotherapy. Surgery is rarely used as a treatment for small cell lung cancer.
Prophylactic cranial irradiation, radiation to the brain, is given to decrease the risk of cancer moving to the brain after initial chemotherapy treatment.
Time to Quit Smoking
It’s never too late to quit smoking, even if you have been diagnosed with lung cancer. Quitting will make the treatments easier to take, and you’ll feel better while making your lungs healthier and reducing the risk of future cancers or lung disease.
The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) Smoke-Free Life Program is here to help you through the quitting process. It won’t be easy to quit, but it will be worth your efforts. Smoking-cessation counseling and medications to help control the side effects of quitting will increase your chances of success. Fortunately, quit-smoking medications will not interfere with your cancer treatments.
Lung cancer patients at SCCA also have access to lung cancer clinical studies for new treatment options being researched here and across the country.
Listen to the latest news, issues and breakthroughs in lung cancer research and treatment presented by SCCA expert physicians on the Patient Power Radio Show.
Your doctors may recommend that you have chemotherapy to treat your lung cancer. Depending on the type and stage of your cancer, your doctors may recommend that you have chemotherapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Radiation therapy is used to treat lung cancer in several ways. It may be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells, or it may be used as the main treatment for people who are not healthy enough to have surgery.
There are several operations performed for lung cancer treatment, depending upon the type and severity of the disease. Surgery for SCCA patients is performed at University of Washington Medical Center by thoracic surgeons who are among the best in the country.
Patients at SCCA have access to a less-invasive alternative if they need lung tissue removed: video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS). VATS lung resections are available at only about 30 centers in the country, including here.
Lung cancer is usually treated with surgery and radiation therapy. Targeted therapy is now also an option for adjuvant treatment of this disease.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. If you are or a loved one are trying to quit, we have a program here at SCCA that can help you.