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Chemotherapy before surgery for non-small-cell lung cancer

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have non-small-cell lung cancer that hasn't spread beyond their chest and can be operated on. It tells you about having chemotherapy before surgery. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

It may work for some people. Some people who have chemotherapy before surgery to remove their lung cancer live longer than people who don't. But it's not clear whether the benefits outweigh the risk of side effects. This treatment is for people who have non-small-cell lung cancer that hasn't spread beyond their chest and can be operated on ( stage 1, 2, or 3).

What is it?

You have chemotherapy to shrink your cancer. You then have an operation to remove the cancer in your lung. To learn more about the operation, see Surgery.

Doctors in the UK have been given guidelines about how to treat people with lung cancer. These say that you'll only be offered chemotherapy before surgery only if you are taking part in a clinical trial. [23] [30] [49] To learn more, see How lung cancer is treated.

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells in the lung and all over the body. There are lots of different drugs used in chemotherapy for lung cancer, and lots of different combinations of drugs.

What drugs are used?

Some of the newer drugs (with their brand names) are:

  • gemcitabine (Gemzar)

  • irinotecan (Campto)

  • paclitaxel (Taxol)

  • vinorelbine (Navelbine).

There are also older drugs, called alkylating agents.

  • Cisplatin and carboplatin are alkylating agents. They also belong to a class of drugs called platinum drugs.

  • Other alkylating agents that are sometimes used include cyclophosphamide (brand name Endoxana) and ifosfamide (Mitoxana).

How is chemotherapy given?

Chemotherapy drugs are usually given as injections into your vein or as a drip (also called an IV or an intravenous infusion). Some come as tablets. You usually have to go to hospital to have injections and drips, but you should be able to go home afterwards. You'll only have to stay in hospital overnight if your treatment takes longer than usual or you have a bad reaction to the drugs.

You'll usually have some tablets to take at home after chemotherapy. These will help with some of the side effects you can get. For example, you may be given tablets to stop you feeling sick and vomiting. You might also be given an injection while you are in hospital to prevent vomiting.

How long does treatment last?

Chemotherapy is usually given as a course of several cycles of treatment. One cycle of chemotherapy is usually given over a few days. Afterwards, you'll have a few weeks' rest to give your body a chance to recover from the harmful effects of the treatment.

Some treatments are more intensive than others. You may be given more drugs to help prevent side effects such as damage to your blood cells.

Last Updated: September 27, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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