Lung cancer can be managed with surgery, radiation therapy, and medication, either alone or in combination, depending on how advanced the tumour is. Which treatment or combination of treatments is best will depend on the type of lung cancer, how advanced the cancer is (i.e., the stage of the cancer), your overall health, side effects, and the potential for curing the cancer, relieving symptoms, or prolonging life. Sometimes no treatment or palliative care can also be an option. Speak to your doctor about your treatment options.
Surgery can potentially cure lung cancer by completely removing it. Surgery can be done if the tumour is small and found in only one lung, and if the remaining lung is strong enough to work on its own. The surgery is called a pneumonectomy if the whole lung is removed, or a lobectomy if only part of the lung is removed. The doctor decides how much of the lung to remove during the surgery.
Although surgery may potentially cure the cancer, not everyone is a good candidate for the surgery. Surgery is only recommended for people in good enough health with no sign that the tumour has spread. If a person has a serious heart or other lung condition, surgery may not be an option.
Radiation uses high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells. It can be used alone or in combination with other treatment to remove or shrink tumours. Radiation can also be used for lung cancer that is blocking the airways (brachytherapy). For people with more advanced disease, radiation is used to keep the cancer from growing, rather than to destroy it entirely. Radiation can control bone pain and other complications (such as a tumour pressing on the spinal cord) caused by cancer cell growth.
Chemotherapy is treatment with anticancer drugs. Chemotherapy can be used alone or in combination with other treatments to shrink tumours or to kill cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is often accompanied by side effects such as loss of hair, nausea, vomiting, anemia, and mouth sores.
Targeted therapies treat a specific type of lung cancer called non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Targeted therapies aim for a particular target in a cancer cell. Currently there are two types of targeted chemotherapy for people who have cancer cells with a very specific genetic mutation. The test for gene mutation may be necessary before starting the treatment.
The highest chance for a cure is in those people where the lung cancer was found and surgically removed or treated in its early stages. However, if the cancer has spread outside of the chest, it's not usually curable.
It's important for people who have had lung cancer to have regular check-ups. There is a chance that people who have had lung cancer surgically removed will get it again. The figure is even higher for those who keep smoking after the surgery.
To find a treatment that's right for you, talk to your doctor about your treatment options. Treatments can have side effects, so be sure to discuss both the risks and the benefits of treatment with your doctor.