Lung Cancer Treatment Options – Recent Research

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy

  • Chemotherapy and radiation may lead to a cure in a small number of patients. These therapies result in shrinking of the tumor and are known to prolong life for extended periods in most patients.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation are very effective at relieving symptoms.
  • Inoperable NSCLCs are treated with chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.
  • If SCLC is in an early stage (confined to the thorax), the standard of care is chemotherapy and radiation therapy given at the same time.
  • In later stages (spread outside of the thorax), SCLC is treated with chemotherapy and palliative radiation therapy to areas where metastases may be present.
  • The brain is sometimes treated with radiation even if no tumor is present there. Called prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI), this therapy may prevent a tumor from forming. PCI is not suitable for all patients, however, and side effects may occur.
  • Limited SCLC (has not spread outside the chest cavity) has an 80%-90% rate of response to combination chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Remission (no cancer detected by physical examination or X-ray studies) occurs in 50%-60% of cases.
  • Of all cases of advanced-stage lung cancer (spread outside the chest cavity), approximately 50%-60% of SCLC and 15%-40% of NSCLC will go in to remission with chemotherapy.
  • If relapse occurs, a different type of chemotherapy regimen may offer symptom relief and modest survival benefit.
  • Even with an initially favorable response to treatment, SCLC tends to relapse within one to two years in most patients, particularly in those with extensive disease.
  • Recent research has shown benefits of adjuvant chemotherapy in early stage NSCLC in preventing or delaying recurrence of the tumor, even after surgery that is felt to be successful at removing all of the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy uses toxic chemicals that travel through the bloodstream. It affects healthy cells as well as cancerous cells, and this accounts for the many well-known side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea and vomiting, hair loss, skin problems, mouth sores, and fatigue.
  • Radiation therapy does not affect cells throughout the body the way chemotherapy does. However, it does affect healthy tissues overlying or directly adjacent to the tumor. To a large extent, the side effects of radiation depend on which part of the body is targeted with radiation.
  • Based on clinical trial data, chemotherapy has been found to be beneficial for all stages of non-small cell lung cancer, including stage I or II. People with lung cancer should be referred to an oncologist for discussion of options.