Treatment of Lung Cancer
Treatment of lung cancer depends upon a variety of factors. The most important factors are the type of lung cancer and the stage of the cancer. Other factors that affect lung cancer treatment include the patient’s general health, medical conditions like chemotherapy that can affect treatment, and tumor characteristics. Cancer treatment can be either
Local Therapy— it includes surgery and radiation therapy
Systemic Therapy— it includes chemotherapy and targeted therapy
Three major procedures are done to remove lung cancer. These vary from removing only the cancerous tissue and nearby tissue, to complete removal of a lung, depending upon the size and location of the tumor. These are:
Wedge resection (segmental resection) — involves removing a portion of the lung that includes the tumor and some surrounding tissue. This surgery is used when a tumor is caught very early.
Lobectomy — the most common surgery used to treat lung cancer, and involves removing a lobe of the lung. (The right lung has 3 lobes and the left lung has 2 lobes.)
Pneumonectomy – involves removal of an entire lung.
Radiation therapy is the delivery of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. High-energy rays damage DNA in cells, causing them to die or stop dividing. Since cancer cells divide more frequently than normal cells, they are more susceptible to damage. Healthy cells can be affected as well but are better able to repair the damage.
Both small-cell and non-small cell lung cancers are frequently treated with radiation therapy, which is often combined with chemotherapy, surgery or both. More than half of those diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer receive radiation therapy at some time during their treatment.
Chemotherapy means using anti cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy medications work by killing rapidly dividing cells. Since cancer cells divide more frequently than most cells, they are particularly susceptible to these drugs. Some normal cells also divide continuously, such as hair follicles, the stomach lining, and the bone marrow that makes red and white blood cells. This accounts for many of the side effects experienced during chemotherapy, such as hair loss, nausea, and low blood cell counts. Often two or more medications are given at the same time to kill as many cancer cells as possible.
Targeted cancer therapies are drugs or other substances that block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumor growth and progression. By focusing on molecular and cellular changes that are specific to cancer, targeted cancer therapies may be more effective than other types of treatment, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and less harmful to normal cells.
Lung cancer and its treatment lead to other medical problems, so supportive care is needed to improve the quality of life. Supportive care includes measures like comfort care and nutrition to reduce the symptoms of lung cancer.
Comfort care is available both during and after the treatment. The physician suggests many ways to alleviate the side effects such as pain, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, fluid in or around lungs, pneumonia, cancer that spreads to the brain or bone, sadness and other feelings.
During or soon after treatment, it is important to have a healthy diet to keep up the strength. Eating well may help feel better and have more energy. But side effects like poor appetite, nausea, vomiting or mouth sores can make hard to eat well. Health care provider can suggest ways to cope with these problems.
Regular checkups are needed after treatment for lung cancer. Even when there are not any signs of cancer, the disease sometimes returns because undetected cancer cells remained somewhere in the body after treatment. Regular checkups help ensure that any changes in health are noted and treated if needed. Checkups may include a physical exam, blood tests, chest x-rays, CT scans, and bronchoscopy. If you have any health problems between checkups, contact your healthcare provider.