The best treatment of Lung Cancer depends on whether SCLC or NSCLC is present. It also depends on tumor stage, particularly in NSCLC. A person's general physical condition is also taken into account.
The most widely used therapies for lung cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
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 limited stage (confined to the thorax), the standard of care is chemotherapy and radiation therapy given at the same time.
Extensive stage (spread outside of the thorax) is treated with chemotherapy and palliative radiation therapy to areas where metastasis 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.
Despite initial favorable results, SCLC tends to relapse within 1-2 years in most patients, particularly in those with extensive disease.
Recent research has shown benefits of adjuvant chemotherapy in early stage NSCLC, even after successful surgical removal of cancer.
Chemotherapy flows through the bloodstream. It affects both cancerous and healthy cells. 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 certain extent, the side effects of radiation depend on which part of the body is targeted.
Based on recent Clinical Trial data, chemotherapy has been found to be beneficial for all stages of non –small cell lung cancer, including stage I or II. Based on this data, patients have approximately a 5-15% higher chance of survival when taking chemotherapy for non –small cell lung cancer. People with lung cancer should be referred to an oncologist for discussion of options.