How is Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treated?

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If you've been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, surgery may be chosen as the best course of treatment. This is especially true if the cancer was detected in its early stages and hasn't spread to other areas of the body.

There are four types of surgery used for non-small cell lung cancer:

  • Resection - This surgery removes a small part of the lung where the tumor is. The procedure is referred to as a wedge resection if a small triangular slice of tissue is taken, or a segmental resection when the tissue sample is a little larger.
  • Sleeve Resection - A surgical procedure that removes part of the bronchus.
  • Lobectomy - Removal of an entire lobe (section) of the lung is done with this procedure.

Surgery isn't always an option, however. Some tumors are inoperable, or you may not be up to surgery for other medical reasons.

Non-Surgical Lung Cancer Treatments

Chemotherapy involves using anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells in the body, or to keep existing cells from dividing. Even after surgery, some cancer cells may remain, and chemotherapy may be added to the treatment plan to help get rid of them. Most chemotherapy is given either by injection into a vein (IV) or by catheter. A few drugs are given in pill form.

Radiation Therapy treats cancer by using high energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It can be used before surgery to shrink tumors, or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Sometimes it is used in combination with chemotherapy as a primary treatment plan instead of surgery.

Most radiation therapy is administered by a machine (external radiation) with the rays aimed directly at the tumor. There is another form of radiation treatment (internal radiation), in which a small capsule of radioactive material is implanted near or in the tumor.

Laser Therapy uses a highly accurate pinpoint of laser light to kill cancer cells.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) - this type of therapy also involves using a laser. A special chemical is injected into the bloodstream where it is absorbed by cells all over the body.  In normal cells, the chemical leaves quickly, but it remains for a longer time in cancer cells. Then, when a laser is aimed at the cancer, the chemical is activated and kills the cancer cell housing it.  

PDT can be used to relieve symptoms of lung cancer, such as bleeding, or blocked airways. It's also an option for treating very small tumors which may not be treated in more conventional ways.

Your doctor(s) will come up with the best treatment plan for your particular situation and will closely monitor how well it is working, along with your ability to tolerate it.  Be sure to offer feedback to your doctor regularly, so that he can address any discomforts you might be experiencing. 

Information for this article obtained from NCI, which is a division of The National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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