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Treatment of non–small cell lung cancer

Treatment for non–small cell lung cancer is given by cancer specialists (oncologists). Some specialize in surgery, some in radiation therapy and others in chemotherapy (drugs). These doctors work with the person with cancer to decide on a treatment plan.

 

Treatment plans are designed to meet the unique needs of each person with cancer. Treatment decisions for non–small cell lung cancer are based on:

  • the stage
  • whether the cancer can be removed by surgery
  • the person’s overall health and lung function

Treatment options for non–small cell lung cancer

  •  surgery
    • Surgery is used to treat early stage non–small cell lung cancer that can be completely removed.
    • A wedge or segmental resection removes the lung tumour, along with a margin of healthy tissue around the tumour.
    • A lobectomy removes the lobe of the lung that has the tumour.
    • A pneumonectomy removes the whole lung.
    • An extended pulmonary resection removes parts of the chest wall, diaphragm, nerves, blood vessels or other tissues near the lung.
    • A sleeve resection removes a tumour from the large bronchus, along with a margin of healthy tissue around the tumour.
    • Lymph nodes are removed with all types of surgery.
  • radiation therapy
    • External beam radiation therapy may be offered:
      • as the primary treatment, with chemotherapy, for tumours that cannot be removed by surgery
      • before surgery, usually with chemotherapy, to shrink a tumour
      • after surgery for stage IIIA non–small cell lung cancer, usually with chemotherapy, to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring
      • alone as the primary treatment, in people who cannot have chemotherapy or surgery
      • to relieve pain or to control the symptoms of advanced non–small cell lung cancer (palliative radiation therapy)
    • Brachytherapy may be used to remove or shrink a tumour that is blocking the airway(s).
  • chemotherapy
    • Chemotherapy may be offered:
      • as the primary treatment, with or without radiation therapy, to destroy cancer cells
      • before surgery or radiation therapy to shrink a tumour
      • after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring
      • to relieve pain or to control the symptoms of advanced non–small cell lung cancer (palliative chemotherapy)
  • endobronchial therapies
    • Endobronchial therapies are used to:
      • remove or shrink a tumour that is blocking the airway(s)
      • treat non–small cell lung cancer that has not spread outside the bronchial wall when the person cannot have surgery or radiation therapy
    • The following endobronchial therapies may be used with non–small cell lung cancer:
      • bronchial debridement
      • stents
      • laser surgery
      • electrocoagulation
      • photodynamic therapy
      • brachytherapy
      • cryosurgery
  • follow-up after treatment is finished
    • It is important to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 2 years after treatment.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials investigate new and better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. There are many clinical trials in Canada that are open to people with non–small cell lung cancer. For more information, go to clinical trials.

 

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about treatment.

References

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We can give information about cancer care and support services in Canada only. To find a cancer organization in your country, visit Union for International Cancer Control or International Cancer Information Service Group.