Healthy Living

Treatments for Lung Cancer

The best therapies for tackling a host of symptoms peculiar to cancer.

Treatments for Lung Cancer

Key Takeaways

  • If cancer is discovered at the earliest stage, the oncologist may opt to tackle the tumor aggressively through surgery. 
  • Palliative care involves doctors carefully combining chemotherapy, radiation, and medicinal care with counseling to help the patient reduce discomfort and resume normal life. 

The nature of cancer, its stage, your overall health, and the condition of your lungs will largely determine the kind of treatment that safeguards your health. If you happen to be an active smoker, quitting the habit would be a precondition for quicker recovery from cancer. Lung cancer is one the most commonly occurring types of cancer, affecting a large number of people. This condition has been found to occur among large populations due to high rates of cigarette smoking, which is one of the main risk factors of lung cancer. There are many factors on which the treatment of lung cancer depends. These factors include the results of diagnostic testing and scans, general health of patient, type of lung cancer, location of the lung cancer, and the stage the lung cancer is at.

Broadly speaking,

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) opens up three options – chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery. Oral chemotherapy is the preferred route, sometimes complimented with radiotherapy, with surgery being the option of the last resort.

 

  • Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is not surgically-friendly because it spreads fast in the beginning. Intravenous chemotherapy is normally recommended. The doctor might decide to expose the chest and brain to mild radiation.

 

  • Mesothelioma, which affects the outer pleural tissue of the lung, is rarely operable. Chemotherapy would be the only alternative, with excessive fluids being drained through thoracentesis.

Surgery

If cancer is discovered at the earliest stage, the oncologist may opt to tackle the tumor aggressively through surgery. Surgery becomes increasingly risky with advancing age. The patient needs to be in tolerably good health, and should be physically fit, and must breathe clearly to be considered for surgery. This treatment method is not used in case of SCLC due to the rapid and wide spreading of the SCLC in the body. This makes it impossible to remove the cancerous tissue from the body via surgery as large part of the body gets affected. For patients with NSCLC, there have been reports that many patients have had the cancer relapse even after the surgical treatment due to the fact of a late diagnosis of the condition.

The three most common types of surgery:

  • Wedge resection: A triangular wedge of tissue is removed from a lobe.
  • Lobectomy: A lobe section is effectively removed.
  • Pneumonectomy: The affected lung or a substantial portion is removed.

Post-surgical recovery

  • You will be on an intravenous drip for two days while a tube drains excess fluid (and air) from the chest and abdomen. Painkillers and antibiotics will be administered.
  • On day two, you will be able to resume a normal diet.
  • From day three onward, a physiotherapist assists you in regaining mobility.
  • You are discharged within a week, with advice to reduce strenuous activity and rest for a minimum six-week period.

The surgery performed for lung cancer is a major one due to which many patients tend to suffer from post-surgical symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue, pain, and weakness. Most patients complain about having problems with deep breathing, coughing, and locomotion.

Chemotherapy

This is the commonly accepted method of treating cancer, and complements radiotherapy and surgical alternatives. Cytotoxic drugs are injected to immobilize cancer cells with minimum damage to healthy tissue. The drugs are usually given intravenously for a couple of days followed by a three-week rest period. Some drugs are given orally.

Chemotherapy-

  • Before surgery aims to diminish cancer, preparing the body for a successful operation.
  • Before radiotherapy weakens cancer cells to ensure the effectiveness of radiotherapy.
  • After surgery aims to prevent cancer from recurring.

Side effects of chemotherapy

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting sensation
  • Ulceration in the mouth
  • Tiredness
  • Loss or thing of hair 
  • Skin rashes

Treatments customized to specific cancers

Tissue sample tests might reveal that adenocarcinoma cells have epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR) owing to a genetic mutation. Doctors could then prescribe drugs that specifically block such receptors to stop cancer from growing. The patient’s consent will be required for receiving targeted therapies.  

Radiotherapy

When tumors become too large for surgery, targeted x-rays are beamed to kill cancer cells and prevent cancer from relocating. Cancer may also attack lymph nodes, and radiation may be necessary to stop it from spreading elsewhere. Sessions are usually painless and take no more than fifteen minutes.  

Side effects of radiation therapy

  • Mild burning sensation in skin
  • Difficulty in swallowing (esophagitis)
  • Scarring of tissue
  • Breathlessness due to damaged air sacs (emphysema)

Thoracentesis (pleural tap)

In mesothelioma, cancer attacks the plural tissue that covers the outer surface of the lung. The build-up of fluid within the pleural cavity creates pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. In thoracentesis, the surgeon uses a perforated needle to suck out excess fluid in an hour-long procedure under local anesthesia.

In pleurodesis, talcum powder is injected to shrink the pleural space. This prevents excessive fluid buildup.

NSCLS-Treatment (Specific to Stage)

The most commonly used methods at stage 0 of NSCLS include segmental resection, wedge resection, laser surgery, cryosurgery, electro cautery, and photodynamic therapy. At stage 1 of NSCLS, the treatment methods used include lobectomy, segmental resection, wedge resection, surgery followed with chemotherapy, chemo preservation (after surgical clinical trial), and photodynamic therapy (clinical trial). The same treatments are used at stage 2 of NSCLC; however, some patients can also be treated with pneumonectomy, or the surgical removal of a lung or part of a lung (after external radiation therapy). At the last stage of NSCLC, patients are often treated using chemotherapy with or without using biologic therapy, internal radiation therapy, or laser therapy.

Medications

There are many medications that are used during the course of treatment of lung cancer. The most common medications chemotherapy drugs along with the drugs used for relieving the pain associated with the condition. The most commonly used medications include carboplatin, vinorelbine, paclitaxel, bevacizumab, erlotinib, etoposide, pemetrexed, irinotecan, and docetaxel. The pain-relieving medication used during the treatment of lung cancer includes over-the-counter (OTC) medications including aspirin and prescribed medications including morphine or hydrocodone.

Palliative care

Palliative care refers to the system of respite care that aims at reducing pain, alleviating symptoms, and checking the growth of cancer cells. Doctors carefully combine chemotherapy, radiation, and medicinal care with counseling to help the patient reduce discomfort and resume an active life.