There are different forms of treatment that can be used to address non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). These include various types of surgery as well as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In some cases, only surgery is used. Other times, all three measures might be needed. The decision depends on the type of lung cancer affecting the patient, where it is located, and how far along it has progressed. Also important is whether the patient’s health is strong enough to endure certain treatments.
In this article, we’ll present the three main forms of treatment, and explain when each is used. The following will clarify how doctors make their decisions regarding how to treat NSCLC in its various stages.
Read more: An Informative Guide About Lung Cancer
Surgical Removal Of The Tumor
This is the method of treatment doctors prefer to use. The problem is, surgery is only effective as a cure if the cancer cells have not left the lungs. Once the tumor has metastasized to other areas, surgery is no longer a curative option.
As a rule, NSCLC can be addressed surgically if it is in stage 1 or 2. Surgery may occasionally be used if the disease has progressed to stage 3A, but this depends largely on its location. Since most cases of lung cancer are caught during the disease’s later stages, less than 40 percent of diagnosed cases can be treated surgically.
There are three main types of surgery for NSCLC. A wedge resection can be done if the tumor is diagnosed early, and is still small and localized. During this procedure, the segment of lung tissue that contains the tumor is removed.
If the tumor occupies a larger portion of tissue, an entire lobe might be removed. This is called a lobectomy.
Sometimes, the tumor spreads throughout one of the patient’s lungs. When this is the case, a pneumonectomy – an operation during which the entire lung is removed – can be performed. Because of the invasive nature of this procedure and the subsequent loss of one lung, the patient must be in good health and have good lung function.
Killing Cancer Cells With Radiation
Radiation therapy is often given with surgery and chemotherapy. It may also be used only with chemotherapy if the patient declines to undergo surgery. During treatment, high-energy radiation is directed to specific sites that contain tumors. The energy kills cancer cells, prevents them from splitting, and reduces the size of the tumors. The downside is that treatment can also kill healthy cells, producing one or more side effects, including hair loss, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Radiation therapy can be delivered from outside the body by positioning a special machine next to the patient, and pointing high-dosage radiation at the disease. Therapy can also be delivered internally through a process called brachytherapy.
Chemotherapy For Systemic Treatment
Chemotherapy is usually given to those suffering from small-cell lung cancer since the disease spreads quickly. It is often given for NSCLC, but is less effective. The chemicals have a similar effect to radiation therapy: they kill diseased cells and prevent them from splitting. Chemotherapy also poses the same drawback: healthy cells are affected along with cancer cells (though more slowly). This causes nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and fatigue. The drugs also make the patient more susceptible to infections.
While both radiotherapy and surgery are used to target localized tumors, chemotherapy is usually given as a systemic treatment. It is most effective in targeting diseased cells after a tumor has metastasized. That said, the chemicals may be used to kill residual cancer cells in a specific area following surgery.
It’s worth underscoring that chemotherapy is rarely given as a treatment to cure non-small cell lung cancer. Instead, it is typically used to reduce symptoms and extend the life of the patient.
Diagnosing NSCLC as early as possible increases the likelihood that the disease can be resolved with surgery alone. Once lung cancer spreads beyond the lymph nodes, other measures become necessary.