What Are the Main Treatments of Lung Cancer?
You need to get treated if you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer. Lung cancer treatments can cure you, help you live longer if you can’t be cured, and reduce painful symptoms.
Oncologists (cancer doctors) often use more than one lung cancer treatment method to destroy as much of the cancer as possible. Treatments vary depending on the type of cancer you have, how far it has spread (cancer stage), your overall health, and many other factors.
Commonly used lung cancer treatments include:
Besides these, alternative therapies and palliative (pain-relieving) treatments can be used to manage painful symptoms. New treatments are also being tested in clinical trials.
Lung cancer treatments are often expensive. Thankfully, you can pursue financial aid if you were diagnosed with lung cancer after exposure to asbestos, a cancer-causing material used in thousands of buildings and products before the early 1980s.
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Types of Lung Cancer & Treatment Options
There are two major types of lung cancer. Which type you have greatly affects the treatments you can receive.
Types of lung cancer include:
- Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC): Cancer tumors are made up of larger cells that spread slowly. It’s classified in four stages, with stage 1 being the least advanced and stage 4 being widespread. Surgery is the most common option for NSCLC patients diagnosed in the early stages, but other treatments can be used too.
- Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC): Cancer cells are smaller and the cancer spreads faster than NSCLC. It’s usually treated with radiation and chemotherapy, but surgery might be an option in rare cases.
Asbestos exposure can cause both SCLC and NSCLC. Asbestos-related lung cancer is treated in the same methods outlined above, depending on the type of lung cancer you have and its stage.
Lung Cancer Surgery
Lung cancer surgeries allow doctors to cut cancer tumors out of the body. They may need to remove part or all of the lung closest to the cancer during surgery.
Surgeries are typically used in cases of NSCLC that are diagnosed before the cancer has spread.
Lung cancer surgery options include:
- Wedge Resection: Doctors cut out parts of organs or tissue during any type of resection. Only a small wedge of lung tissue containing the tumors is removed during a wedge resection.
- Segmental Resection: Your lungs are made up of several chambers called lobes. Each lobe is made up of a couple of segments. A segmental resection removes the segment of the lobe closest to the lung tumors.
- Lobectomy: A lobectomy allows doctors to remove an entire lobe, so the cancer doesn’t spread to other areas of the body. It’s the most commonly used lung cancer surgery, according to the American Lung Association (ALA).
- Sleeve Resection: Doctors can perform sleeve resection if they find cancer in part of your bronchus (a passage that feeds air into the lungs). This surgery removes the cancerous part of the bronchus and the lobe closest to the cancer. Doctors then reattach the noncancerous parts of the bronchus and the lobes, so the lung will still work.
- Pneumonectomy: Doctors remove an entire lung with this surgery.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) notes that surgery is occasionally used to treat SCLC as well.
Doctors may recommend surgery for an SCLC patient if there’s only a single cancer tumor found in the lungs. However, less than 5% of SCLC patients will be able to undergo surgery.
It can take several months to recover from a lung cancer surgery, according to the ACS. Some lung cancer patients may suffer from side effects like fatigue, blood clotting, infections, and pneumonia.
Life-extending surgery is not usually performed on late-stage patients since doctors won’t be able to remove all the cancer. However, doctors may recommend minor surgeries as a form of palliative (pain-relieving) care.
Lung Cancer Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy uses medication to kill cancer cells. It is one of the most widely used lung cancer treatments. Chemotherapy is used to treat both small cell and non-small cell lung cancer at any stage.
Doctors can use chemotherapy:
Chemotherapy may be the main lung cancer treatment used in patients with stage 3 or stage 4 NSCLC. The cancer has often spread so far in these cases that the patient can’t safely undergo surgery.
Doctors may also use chemotherapy with immunotherapy and radiation therapy in cases of advanced SCLC.
Doctors use chemotherapy to amplify the effects of a lung cancer surgery. They may give doses of chemotherapy before surgery to shrink tumors or after surgery to destroy microscopic cancer cells that may have been left behind.
A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy known as chemoradiation is commonly used to treat early-stage SCLC. Chemoradiation may also be used to treat patients with advanced NSCLC that can’t undergo surgery.
With Other Treatments
The ACS notes that chemotherapy can be used alongside immunotherapy and/or targeted therapy to treat cases of late-stage lung cancer.
You may suffer from side effects like fatigue, hair loss, and nausea as you undergo chemotherapy since the treatment kills both cancer cells and healthy ones.
Doctors will look to spread out your chemotherapy doses to limit your side effects. This is called giving chemotherapy in cycles.
Call (877) 446-5767 to learn how you can afford chemotherapy and other asbestos lung cancer treatments. Our team can answer any questions you have.
Lung Cancer Radiation
Radiation therapy (also known as radiotherapy) uses energy beams to destroy cancer cells and tumors. Doctors can use radiation therapy on its own to treat lung cancer or use it to supplement surgery and chemotherapy.
Types of radiation for lung cancer include:
- External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRT): With EBRT, doctors use a machine to send radiation through your lungs to kill cancer cells. It is the most common type of radiation used to treat both SCLC and NSCLC.
- Brachytherapy: Doctors put a radioactive substance directly in the body to shrink the tumors. It is also known as internal radiotherapy because of this.
Factors that affect which type of radiation will be used include the type of lung cancer you have and if it has spread to other parts of the body.
Like chemotherapy, radiation can also destroy healthy cells along with cancerous ones. This can lead to side effects like hair loss and fatigue. Doctors will do everything they can to limit the side effects while still making sure the radiation helps you.
Radiofrequency ablation uses a needle charged with electricity to treat cancer. Doctors insert the needle into the lung cancer tumor. The needle sends out electricity that kills cancer cells and causes the tumor to shrink.
Doctors may recommend this type of treatment if surgery is not possible in your case. They may use radiofrequency ablation by itself or in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation.
Lung Cancer Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy boosts the body’s immune system so it can fight cancer.
The body’s immune system normally knows to kill bad cells or viruses while not harming healthy ones using special checkpoint proteins.
However, since cancer cells are mutations of healthy ones, they may sometimes use the checkpoint proteins to avoid being destroyed. Immunotherapy drugs can prevent the cancer cells from escaping detection.
Immunotherapy drugs used to treat lung cancer include:
- Atezolizumab (Tecentriq®)
- Nivolumab (Opdivo®)
- Pembrolizumab (Keytruda®)
Immunotherapy can be used alongside other types of lung cancer treatment (like chemotherapy) to treat both SCLC and NSCLC. Possible side effects of immunotherapy include nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, or a skin rash.
Targeted therapies are medications that interrupt the cancer cells’ ability to spread. Lung cancer cells have mutations that set them apart from healthy cells. Targeted therapy allows doctors to hone in on these mutations and stop the cancer.
For example, some targeted therapies prevent cancer cells from creating the blood vessels they need to grow. Without these blood vessels, the cancer cells will die.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) notes that targeted therapy doesn’t cause as much harm to healthy tissue, so patients may have fewer side effects than if they were treated with chemotherapy or radiation.
You can access lung cancer compensation to cover the costs of treatment right now. Start the process with a free case review.
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Clinical Trials and Lung Cancer Treatments
Doctors continue to study many other treatments for lung cancer in clinical trials. These trials test new therapies to help patients live longer or with fewer symptoms.
You can join a clinical trial to access new lung cancer treatment options if you meet the criteria outlined in the trial.
Hundreds of lung cancer clinical trials are currently happening at thousands of hospitals and cancer centers across the country.
Clinical trials are an important part of cancer research. These tests allow doctors to see how effective a new treatment is, see what its side effects are, and compare it to treatments that are currently in use.
You can find new clinical trials for lung cancer at ClinicalTrials.gov or by asking your doctor if you qualify for any trials.
Palliative care is pain-relieving treatment. It can ease your lung cancer symptoms and improve your quality of life. It’s often recommended if your lung cancer is too advanced and you won’t be able to get other treatments to live longer.
Palliative care options include:
- Accessing supplemental oxygen
- Draining pleural effusions (buildups of fluid in the lung lining)
- Getting medications to ease pain and improve breathing
- Giving low doses of radiation
- Inserting a catheter into the lung lining to drain fluid that keeps building up
- Placing a stent in the airway to help with breathing
- Using laser therapy or photodynamic (light-based) therapy to shrink tumors lining airways
Talk to your doctor about palliative treatments that can help you manage uncomfortable lung cancer symptoms.
Alternative Lung Cancer Treatments
Alternative lung cancer treatments are therapies used outside of what a doctor recommends. They include meditation, dietary supplements, yoga, and more.
Always talk to your doctors before starting alternative treatments. These alternative therapies should not be used as substitutes for standard lung cancer treatments.
Some alternative treatments promise a miracle cure for cancer, and this is simply not true. Further, some alternative treatments for lung cancer (like changes to your diet) can be harmful without doctor supervision.
However, other alternative treatments may help you feel more calm and reduce symptoms as long as they’re done with the approval of your cancer care team.
Doctors That Treat Lung Cancer
There are many doctors across the country that treat lung cancer. You may have more than one doctor on your care team depending on what treatments you need.
Doctors that offer lung cancer treatments include:
- Medical oncologists: Medical oncologists use chemotherapy and other medications to shrink cancer tumors.
- Palliative care specialists: You can work with these doctors to ease symptoms of lung cancer.
- Pulmonologists: These doctors specialize in lung-related disorders. They can help you manage issues with breathing and check a biopsy (tissue/fluid sample) to see if you have lung cancer.
- Radiation oncologists: These doctors use radiation to kill cancer cells. They’ll determine which type of radiation (if any) will help you.
- Thoracic surgeons: Thoracic surgeons remove cancer tumors via surgery.
Your primary doctor can help you find specialists that treat lung cancer after you’re diagnosed.
Affording Lung Cancer Treatment Costs
A lung cancer diagnosis is stressful enough. But paying for lung cancer treatments can put an even bigger burden on you and your family.
The cost of lung cancer care without insurance is very high — over $140,000, according to a case study from the ACS. You may still have to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of your own pocket even if you have insurance.
Thankfully, you can pursue financial aid if your lung cancer was caused by asbestos exposure. The makers of asbestos-containing products knew the health risks back in the 1930s but concealed the facts to keep their profits up.
The dangers of asbestos exposure weren’t fully known by the general public until the early 1980s. You can take legal action to get compensated if you were exposed to asbestos before this time and now have lung cancer or another asbestos-related disease.
Compensation can cover your lung cancer treatment costs, other health care expenses, and much more.
Our team may be able to help you — even if you have lung cancer but aren’t certain you were exposed to asbestos. Get started now by calling (877) 446-5767.
FAQs About Lung Cancer Treatment
Can lung cancer be treated successfully?
Yes. It may be possible for you to beat lung cancer with treatment, no matter your diagnosis. A 2020 study from the journal Frontiers in Oncology noted that some patients with stage 4 NSCLC lived for 10 years. Some may live even longer with proper medical treatment.
What is the most successful treatment for lung cancer?
The most successful lung cancer treatment in your case will depend on what type of cancer you have and how far it has spread.
Yale Medicine notes that surgery is the preferred treatment for patients with NSCLC that hasn’t spread very far. Patients with SCLC are usually treated with chemotherapy and radiation, not surgery.
Make sure to undergo lung cancer screenings if you smoked or worked around asbestos but aren’t sick. Lung cancer screenings can catch tumors in your body before they start causing symptoms. More treatment options may be available if your cancer is caught early on.
How is asbestos lung cancer treated?
Asbestos-related lung cancer is treated in the same way non-asbestos lung cancer is treated. Treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and more.
Asbestos lung cancer is sometimes confused with mesothelioma, another asbestos-caused cancer that affects the linings of major organs.
Mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer require different treatments. It’s important to get correctly diagnosed so you aren’t given the wrong treatments.
How does stage affect lung cancer treatment?
The stages of lung cancer can greatly affect the types of treatment you receive.
Early-stage lung cancer is much easier to treat since it is contained to your lung. This means doctors can often remove the tumors with surgery or destroy them with chemotherapy and radiation.
Late-stage lung cancer is harder to treat as the cancer may have spread into other parts of your body like the lymph nodes, bones, or brain. Chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments can be used to shrink cancer tumors and help you live longer.
Doctors can recommend lung cancer treatments by stage after confirming your diagnosis.
How can I access lung cancer treatments?
Your health care team will want to confirm your lung cancer diagnosis before recommending treatments. Doctors use imaging tests such as chest X-rays or CT scans to identify possibly cancerous tumors in your lung tissue.
After this, they’ll take a biopsy (sample of cancerous fluid/tissue) to confirm your diagnosis. You and your doctors can then come up with a treatment plan that best suits your needs.