Lung Cancer Treatment Options

There are many different treatment options for lung cancer. Several are considered standard treatment options, while others are newer approaches that are becoming more readily available.

Lung cancer treatments are tailored to the individual patient's needs and wishes, so each patient needs to understand their options.

As with most cancer treatments, the choice of therapy is dictated mostly by the cancer type and the disease stage.

Treatment for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

There are several different types of treatment for patients with non-small cell lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Surgery

There are four main types of surgery used to treat lung cancer:

  1. Wedge resection: The surgery to remove a tumor and some of the normal tissue around it is called a wedge resection. If a slightly larger amount of tissue is taken, it is called a segmental resection.

  2. Lobectomy: Surgery to altogether remove one of the five lobes.

  3. Pneumonectomy: The surgery involving the removal of an entire lung is a pneumonectomy.

  4. Sleeve resection: A surgery to remove part of the bronchus is a sleeve resection.

Some patients are given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells once the visible cancer is removed. This process is called adjuvant therapy.

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Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other radiation types to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy used to treat non-small cell lung cancer:

  • External radiation uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the area of the body with cancer.

  • Internal radiation uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters placed directly into or near the tumor site.

Radiation oncologists can treat tumors present in airways with radiation given directly to the tumor through an endoscope. 

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lung-cancer-chemotherapy-bannerChemotherapy uses drugs to stop cancer cells' growth, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. The way this cancer treatment is administered depends on the type and stage of the lung cancer.

When chemotherapy is injected into a vein or muscle or taken orally (by mouth), the drugs can enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body. This is called systemic chemotherapy.

When chemotherapy is placed directly into a body cavity such as the abdomen, an organ, or the cerebrospinal fluid, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas. This is called regional chemotherapy.

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Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy includes drugs, antibodies, or other proteins that target and disrupt specific cancer cells' proteins. These disrupted proteins are critical for the cancer cell's survival, so the treated cell dies or stops multiplying. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to healthy cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy does. 

There are three types of targeted therapy being used to treat metastatic, advanced, or recurrent non-small cell lung cancer. These include:

  1. Monoclonal antibodies: Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made immune system proteins. They are made to treat many diseases, including lung cancer. When used as cancer treatment, these antibodies can attach to a specific target on cells that allow cancer cells to grow. The antibodies can then kill the cancer cells, keep them from spreading, or block their growth. Given by infusion, monoclonal antibodies may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells.

  2. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors: These small-molecule drugs go through the cell membrane and work inside cancer cells. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors block the signals that cancer cells need to continue growing. Specific tyrosine kinase inhibitors also have angiogenesis inhibitor effects, blocking the nutrients a tumor needs to grow.

  3. Mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) inhibitors: These inhibitors block a protein called mTOR, which may keep cancer cells from growing and prevent new blood vessels' growth which tumors need to grow.

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Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer

Immunotherapy is a type of biologic therapy. Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that aids your immune system in fighting cancer.

There are a variety of immunotherapy types, each working in its unique way. Some immunotherapy treatments are designed to help the immune system slow or even stop cancerous cells' growth. Others support the patient's immune system in destroying cancer cells and preventing lung cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.

There are currently two types of immunotherapy used to treat lung cancer - immune checkpoint inhibitors and adoptive T-cell therapy.

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Laser Therapy for Lung Cancer

Laser therapy is a group of cancer treatments that use laser beams to kill lung cancer cells.

  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): Using photodynamic therapy (PDT) as a cancer treatment involves using a drug along with a specific type of laser light to kill cancer cells. The drug, which is not active until light exposure, is injected into the patient's vein. The drug collects primarily in cancerous cells rather than in normal cells. Then, fiber optic tubes carry the laser light to the cancer cells, where they are activated and kill the cells.

    Photodynamic therapy causes very little damage to healthy tissue. Its primary use is to treat tumors on or just under the skin or in the lining of internal organs. When a tumor is in the airways, PDT is given directly to the tumor through an endoscope.

  • Cryosurgery: Cryosurgery, also called cryotherapy, can be used as a lung cancer treatment. It uses an instrument to freeze (destroy) abnormal tissue, such as carcinoma in situ. For tumors in the airways, cryosurgery is administered through an endoscope.

  • Electrocautery: Electrocautery is a lung cancer treatment that uses a probe or needle heated by an electric current to destroy abnormal tissue. For tumors in the airways, electrocautery is done through an endoscope.

Watchful Waiting

Watchful waiting closely monitors a patient's condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change. Your oncologist may decide on watchful waiting in certain rare cases of non-small cell lung cancer.

New Types of Lung Cancer Treatment Are Being Tested in Clinical Trials


Chemoprevention uses drugs, vitamins, or other substances to reduce the risk of cancer or reduce the risk cancer will recur (come back). For lung cancer, chemoprevention minimizes the chance that a new tumor will form in the lung.


Radiosensitizers are materials that make tumor cells easier to kill with radiation therapy. Researchers are studying the combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy administered with radiosensitizers to treat non-small cell lung cancer.

New Combinations

New combinations of lung cancer treatments are also being studied in clinical trials to determine if additional treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment. For some patients, taking part in a lung cancer clinical trial may be the best treatment choice.

Treatment for Small Cell Lung Cancer

The treatment options in small cell lung cancer are less complex than non-small cell lung cancer. This is mostly because studies have repeatedly shown that treatment outcomes are not affected by the detailed staging of SCLC. In other words, placing SCLC in four different stages does not influence treatment choices or outcomes to any appreciable degree. Therefore, treatment of small cell lung cancer is based mainly on two different stages, limited and extensive.

Stage: Limited

Standard Treatment
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
    (single drug or combination)
Alternative Therapy
  • Surgery

Stage: Extensive

Standard Treatment
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
    (combination of drugs)
Alternative Therapy
  • Radiation Therapy to the Brain Prophylactically
  • Surgery (palliative)

Chemotherapy is a critical part of treatment for SCLC patients. Depending on the extent of the disease either one or a combination of chemotherapy drugs may be used during treatment.

Small cell lung cancer is also very sensitive to radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is often used to treat SCLC, prevent its spread to the brain, or relieve symptoms.

For some patients, treatment may also include surgery; however, a small number of SCLC patients will benefit from surgery.

While immunotherapies have been developed for certain types of SCLC, they have not become as highly adopted as they have for NSCLC. There are still clinical research studies being conducted for additional immunotherapies for SCLC.

If you, or someone you know, has lung cancer and you would like to know if they qualify for additional compensation, please call 1-800-998-9729 for a FREE consultation.