Lung cancer treatment
Treatment for lung cancer will depend on the type of lung cancer you have, the stage of the cancer, how well you can breathe (your lung function) and your general health. If you are a smoker, your doctor will advise you to stop smoking before you start treatment.
Learn more about:
- What is the aim of treatment?
- Treatment options by type and stage
- Making treatment decisions
- Thermal ablation
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Palliative treatment
What is the aim of treatment
For early or locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer (stages 1–3 NSCLC) or limited-stage small cell lung cancer (SCLC), treatment may be given with the aim of making all signs and symptoms of the cancer go away. This is called curative treatment.
Because lung cancer causes vague symptoms in the early stages, many people are diagnosed when the cancer is advanced (stage 4 NSCLC or extensive-stage SCLC). This means the cancer has spread outside the lung to other parts of the body. The goal of treatment is to maintain quality of life by controlling the cancer, slowing down its spread and managing any symptoms. This is called palliative treatment.
Preparing for treatment
If you are a current smoker, your health care team will advise you to stop smoking before you start treatment for lung cancer. This is because smoking may make the treatment less effective and side effects worse. To work out a plan for quitting, talk to your doctor or call Quitline on 13 78 48.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
|early (stage 1 or 2)||Usually treated with surgery to remove the cancer and nearby lymph nodes. If surgery is not an option or you choose not to have surgery, you may have radiation therapy. Sometimes, chemotherapy may be given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.|
|locally advanced (stage 3)||Can be treated with surgery and chemotherapy or with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Immunotherapy drugs may also be used. Treatment will depend on where the cancer is in the lung and the number and location of lymph nodes with cancer. In some cases, targeted therapy may be used to slow the spread of the cancer.|
|advanced (stage 4)||Depending on the symptoms, palliative drug treatment (targeted therapy, immunotherapy or chemotherapy), palliative radiation therapy or both may be used.|
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
|limited stage||Usually treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgery is not used.|
|extensive stage||Mainly treated with palliative chemotherapy, with or without immunotherapy. This depends on the cancer cell type and molecular test results. Palliative radiation therapy may also be given to the primary cancer in the lung and to other parts of the body where the cancer has spread.|
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
A/Prof Nick Pavlakis, President, Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group, President, Clinical Oncology Society of Australia, and Senior Staff Specialist, Department of Medical Oncology, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Dr Naveed Alam, Thoracic Surgeon, St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne, VIC; Prof Kwun Fong, Thoracic and Sleep Physician and Director, UQ Thoracic Research Centre, The Prince Charles Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, The University of Queensland, QLD; Renae Grundy, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Lung, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; A/Prof Brian Le, Director, Palliative Care, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre – Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The Royal Melbourne Hospital, and The University Of Melbourne, VIC; A/Prof Margot Lehman, Senior Radiation Oncologist and Director, Radiation Oncology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Susana Lloyd, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Nicole Parkinson, Lung Cancer Support Nurse, Lung Foundation Australia.
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