Lung cancer treatment

Treatment for lung cancer depends on the type of lung cancer you have, the stage of the cancer, your breathing capacity and your general health. Non-small cell cancer (NSCLC) and small cell cancer (SCLC) are treated in different ways.

Your doctors will also consider your age and general health, as well as the options available at your hospital.

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Treatment options by type and stage

Below is a summary of the treatment options by type and stage:

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)

Early stage – Usually treated with surgery, including removal of nearby lymph nodes. If surgery is not an option, radiation therapy is offered. Sometimes, chemotherapy may be given after surgery or with radiation therapy.

Locally advanced – Stage III cancer can be treated with surgery and chemotherapy or with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Treatment will depend on the number and location of lymph nodes with cancer.

Advanced – Palliative chemotherapy and/or palliative radiation therapy may be offered depending on symptoms. New targeted therapy drugs may also be an option.

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)

Stages I–III – Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the main treatments. Surgery is not used.

Stage IV – Palliative chemotherapy is the main treatment. Palliative radiation therapy may also be given to the brain, spine, bone or other parts of the body where the cancer
has spread.

Making treatment decisions

Sometimes it is difficult to decide on the type of treatment to have. You may feel that everything is happening too fast. Check with your doctor how soon your treatment should start, and take as much time as you can before making a decision.

You have the right to accept or refuse any treatment offered, to ask for more information, or to get a second opinion. In some cases, you may be able to take part in a clinical trial that is testing new or modified treatments.

To find out more about decision-making steps, consent and second opinions, read our page on Making cancer treatment decisions. 

This information was last reviewed in November 2016.
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