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Lung cancer treatment

What are the treatments for lung cancer?

According to Cancer Research UK, if it is detected early enough, around a third of men and women will survive for at least a year after being treated for lung cancer. Around 5% will survive for 10 years.

Lung cancer surgery

The decision to perform surgery is based not only on the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread but also on the patient's overall health. Many patients with lung cancer - especially smokers - have existing lung or heart problems that make surgery difficult and recovery more complicated. Cancer that has spread to lymph nodes between the lungs was once considered inoperable, but combining surgery with chemotherapy afterwards and occasionally adding radiotherapy as well, has improved cure rates.

When feasible, the preferred treatment for non-small-cell lung cancer is surgery. During the operation, the surgeon removes the tumour along with surrounding lung tissue and lymph nodes; often the entire lung must be taken out.

After lung cancer surgery, patients stay in the hospital for several days and receive medication to control pain.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy after lung cancer surgery

After lung cancer surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be necessary to kill remaining cancer cells, but is usually delayed for at least a month while the surgical wound heals. Non-small-cell lung cancers that cannot be treated with surgery are usually treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy and combination therapy

Because of its tendency to spread extensively, small-cell lung cancer is typically treated with combination chemotherapy - which is the use of more than one drug - and often in conjunction with radiotherapy. On rare occasions, surgery is used if the cancer is felt to be at a very early stage.

Patients whose cancers have metastasised - spread to distant sites - are usually treated with chemotherapy. Radiotherapy is often used to treat symptoms within the lungs. Since metastatic lung cancer is very difficult to cure, the main goals of treatment are to provide comfort and prolong life. Current treatments can shrink tumours, which may lessen pain and other symptoms. Patients with advanced lung cancer commonly take medication to control pain. Morphine and its various derivatives are widely used and extremely effective in the management of cancer pain, and there are a number of other effective treatments and strategies.

Scientific research suggests that chemotherapy may help prevent reoccurrence of lung cancer in patients in the early stage of the disease.

Genetic testing

Non-small-cell lung cancer is the most common form of lung cancer but the success of treatment often depends on whether the tumour has a particular genetic mutation.

Genetic mutations can produce an enzyme called epidermal growth factor receptor-tyrosine kinase or EGFR-TK. This has a role in tumour growth. Knowing if this is present means cancer doctors can select a specific type of chemotherapy to stop EGFR-TK from working rather than just using standard treatment.

The NHS uses a range of new tests to check for this abnormality.

At-home care for lung cancer

At-home care aims to help you manage the after-effects or complications of treatment for lung cancer. For example, if you've had lung cancer surgery, your nurse or doctor can show you special exercises to improve your breathing and strengthen your chest muscles. Some people develop a skin reaction similar to sunburn from radiotherapy. Macmillan Cancer Support says pale skin may become red and sore or itchy and darker skin may develop a blue or black tinge. The charity says radiographers will give advice on how to look after your skin.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on May 30, 2017

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