Lung cancer treatment

Treatment for lung cancer will depend 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.

Topics on this page:

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, radiotherapy is offered. Sometimes, chemotherapy may be given after surgery or with radiotherapy.

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

Advanced – Palliative chemotherapy and/or palliative radiotherapy 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 radiotherapy are the main treatments. Surgery is not used.

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

Read more about treatment options by type and stage

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. 

Questions for your doctor

You may find this checklist helpful when thinking about the questions you want to ask your doctor about your disease and treatment. If your doctor gives you answers that you don’t understand, ask for clarification.

  • What type of lung cancer do I have?
  • Has the cancer spread?
  • How fast is it growing?
  • What treatment do you recommend and why?
  • Are there other treatment choices for me?
  • If not, why not?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment?
  • How long will treatment take?
  • Will I have to stay in hospital?
  • How much will treatment cost?
  • Will the treatment cause any pain?
  • How will the pain be managed?
  • Are the latest tests and treatments for lung cancer available in this hospital?
  • Are there any clinical trials or research studies I could join?
  • How frequently will I need check-ups after treatment?
  • Who should I go to for my follow-up appointments?
  • Are there any complementary therapies that might help me?
  • Should I change my diet during or after treatment?
  • How will I know if the cancer comes back?
  • If the cancer comes back, what are my treatment options?
Read more about questions for your doctor

Pages in Treatment include:

This information was last reviewed in November 2016.
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum.

Work and cancer
Information for employees, employers and workplaces dealing with cancer.


Cancer information

Making cancer treatment decisions
Decision-making steps, consent and second opinions

Deciding on specialist care
How to find and choose a surgeon, oncologist or other specialist