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Lung Cancer Treatments

There are three main types of treatment for lung cancer. Your doctor will determine which type is best for you, based on the type and stage of the lung cancer you have. Treatments may be used individually, or in conjunction with one another for more aggressive approaches.

Curative Surgery

A lung cancer surgeon (thoracic surgeon) will perform surgery in the early stages of lung cancer to remove a tumor, surrounding lymph nodes, and tissue. This is called wedge resection. If the surrounding tissue is found to be cancerous, more of the lung may need to be removed (segmental resection). If the cancer is extensive, a lobe of your lung may be removed (lobectomy), or an entire lung (pneumonectomy) may be removed. This procedure greatly increases the chance of survival for some cancer types.

Palliative Surgery

The location of a tumor might cause pain in certain areas of your body. It could also make breathing difficult. The function of palliative surgery is to remove the tumor to make you more comfortable.


Chemotherapy is referred to as a systemic therapy, because it uses strong drugs to slow or kill cancer cells throughout the whole body. The drugs can be taken orally, in pill or liquid form, but are usually administered intravenously. The dosage and length of treatment varies, but can be prescribed as often as daily, and for as long as years, depending on the type of lung cancer and your response to the treatment. The drawback of chemotherapy treatment is that it damages healthy cells as well as cancerous ones and can cause numerous side effects such as hair loss, nausea, and vomiting.


Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to reduce or kill cancer cells. Radiation can be focused to specific areas, decreasing the possibility of damaging healthy cells. The doses are administered over a period of weeks or months. This can be the main treatment for some patients, while others will receive it to kill cancer cells that remain after surgery.

Targeted Drug Therapy

Targeted drug therapy is a newer treatment. It uses drugs that zero in on defects within the cell that make it cancerous.

Bevacizumab (Avastin)

Bevacizumab disables tumor growth by preventing it from creating a new blood supply. Research has shown that bevacizumab can help people with advanced lung cancer when it was used in combination with chemotherapy.

Erlotinib (Tarceva)

Erlotinib blocks the chemicals that signal cancer cells to grow and divide. Erlotinib is used for people with certain cancers who haven’t been helped by chemotherapy.

Supportive Care

Supportive care, or comfort care, is suggested when the prognosis isn’t promising and your chances for recovery are slight. Treatment is aimed at easing any pain and discomfort of symptoms, rather than stopping the cancer. Supportive care might include the help of a therapist or social worker to address emotions, along with pain and symptom management.

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Jul 29, 2010: Gregory Cosby

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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