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What is lung cancer treatment?

Learn about the most effective and common types of lung cancer treatment.

Some types of lung cancer can be treated with surgery. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Some types of lung cancer can be treated with surgery.

Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that 215,020 new cases of lung cancer would be diagnosed during 2008. However, with the right treatment determined by a team of health care professionals, the prognosis for lung cancer patients can be hopeful. The ACS, in partnership with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), outlines treatment options for the two varieties of lung cancer: non-small cell and small-cell.

Types of Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer, making up 85 to 90 percent of all cases. Occasionally, but very infrequently, a patient may be simultaneously diagnosed with both types, in which case it is referred to as mixed or combined small cell/large cell lung cancer. The type of lung cancer, in addition to the stage of the cancer at diagnosis, determines the appropriate treatment. The ACS and the NCCN outline the four basic lung cancer treatment options as radiation, surgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.

Lung Cancer Radiation Therapy

The most common lung cancer treatment option (regardless of type) is radiation therapy, which targets, shrinks and kills cancer cells using high-energy rays, such as X-rays. External radiation involves targeting the cancer from outside the body. Internal radiation, also known as implant radiation or brachytherapy, involves targeting the cancer directly by placing radioactive matter on or into the cancerous area.

Lung Cancer Surgery

Two types of surgery are commonly performed on lung cancer patients: lobectomy and pneumectomy. A lobectomy involves the removal of an isolated portion of the affected lung or lungs, removing just the infected area and some tissue around it. A pneumectomy involves the removal of an entire lung. For an otherwise healthy patient, a full recovery from either procedure can be expected.

Lung Cancer Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs, taken either orally or intravenously, to combat lung cancer. The drug treatments are administered in cycles by a medical oncologist. Different combinations of drugs are recommended depending on whether the cancer is small or non-small cell. Common side effects of chemotherapy include loss of appetite, nausea, hair loss and decreased immune system function, some of which can be alleviated by the prescription of additional medication.

Targeted Lung Cancer Therapy

Targeted therapy also involves prescription medication. But these medications specifically target the lungs, unlike chemotherapy, which affect the entire body.

Sometimes one kind of lung cancer treatment alone will be enough, but in other cases a combination of any of the four, for example, surgery and chemotherapy, may be most effective.

Alternative Treatments

In addition to traditional medical treatment for cancer, some patients have found relief in alternative, holistic treatments. The ACS refers to these treatments (which may include massage, acupuncture and herbal supplements) as "complimentary," and recommends that they be used in conjunction with a proven effective medical treatment.

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