Lung Cancer Treatments by Stage
Once you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, it is important to understand the treatment path that is available to you. The approach used to treat each patient’s lung cancer depends on a variety of different factors, the most important one being the type of lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), the more common type of lung cancer, has a different set of treatment plans than small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
The other important factor used to decide which treatments are given to a lung cancer patient is the stage of cancer. The higher the stage, the more complex the treatment process.
What are the Stages of Lung Cancer?
Learn more about how the different types of lung cancer are staged.
Stage 0 patients have cancer cells on the lining of the airway, but not all the way into the lung yet, this is usually treatable with surgery alone. Laser therapy is also a treatment option to kill these cancer cells.
Because the cancer has been found very early, possibly by a lung cancer screening test, surgery is usually performed to remove the nodule(s). The cells are tested to see if chemotherapy is necessary or even possibly immunotherapy.
For stage 2 NSCLC patients, surgery is usually an option to remove the cancer followed by chemotherapy. Immunotherapy may be introduced during stage II as well as targeted drug therapy for patients with certain EGFR gene mutations.
Surgery is sometimes used for these patients, although in some cases there are several nodules throughout the lung which makes effective removal of the cancer through surgery more difficult. For these patients, other treatments may be used as a first line of treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapies.
At stage 4 (A and B) cancer has now spread to other parts of the body. However, at stage 4A, the cancer has only spread to one other area such as the brain which means surgery could be used to remove the cancer in this other area of the body. Radiation therapy is sometimes used to kill the cancer cells for these patients as well.
During this stage, the cancer has often spread throughout the body or to various parts of the body. For those patients, testing for biomarkers is an option to see if there are specific drugs that can target a genetic mutation and stop the growth of the cancer cells.
Surgery is typically recommended in earlier stages for tumor removal. However, because small cell lung cancer isn’t typically found at this stage, it is less common. This is because you must be in good health to withstand the surgery and recovery and have a part (or all) of a lung removed. Oftentimes chemotherapy follows surgery for treatment.
Radiation therapy may prevent any spread of cancerous cells to the brain. In most cases, chemotherapy and radiation will be given as treatment for small cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer is often widespread, making surgery difficult.
For extensive small cell lung cancer, chemotherapy and immunotherapy are often used because the cancer is too widespread in the lungs to be removed with surgery or targeted by radiation beams. However, radiation may also be given specifically to the brain to prevent the spread of the cancer cells to this area of the body. Laser therapy can be beneficial for those experiencing breathing difficulties from the cancer.
Lung Cancer Clinical Trials at RMCC
Lung cancer is under extensive research to find more ways to treat patients based on their specific genetic makeup and the stage of the cancer. Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers participates in these trials, giving our patients access to options that may not be available to patients everywhere just yet.
Talk to your oncologist about whether a lung cancer clinical trial might be right for you.