Lung cancer treatments today are more advanced than ever, and clinical trials are underway to find new treatment plans for this condition. Most of the lung cancer treatments focus on removing cancerous cells and restoring lung health, while some stop the cancer cells from multiplying and reduce the size of the lung tumour. Advanced lung cancer treatments such as immunotherapy assist a patient’s immune system in tackling the disease.
Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, but diagnosing the disease in its early stages increases the survival rate of the patients significantly. Doctors can begin treatment at an early stage and manage the condition with relatively safe treatments. Therefore, regular screenings and visits to a lung specialist can make a positive impact on the life of an individual who might be susceptible to this condition. The treatment is determined by various factors including the size and shape of the tumour and whether the cancer cells have spread into other areas of the lung or the body.
Here, you will find the most prominent lung cancer treatments for every stage of lung cancer and learn more about the disease.
- Lung cancer: Overview
- Stages of lung cancer
- Treatment of lung cancer
- Alternative medicine for lung cancer treatment
- Can lung cancer be prevented?
- Outlook for people with lung cancer
Lung cancer: Overview
Lung cancer causes the abnormal growth of lung cells that may spread to other areas. Since the cancer cells cannot be cured, the available treatment methods involve limiting their growth, killing them, or removing them from a person’s body. Usually, the symptoms of the diastase don’t show up until the cancer has advanced, which makes regular screening for high-risk individuals an important part of diagnosing lung cancer at an early stage.
You should consult a specialist for lungs upon noticing any of the following:
- A new and persistent cough that does not improve
- Coughing up small or large amounts of blood
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain and hoarseness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bone pain
Stages of lung cancer
Lung cancer treatment largely depends on the stage of the disease and lung health. There are different parameters including the size of the lung tumour and spread of the cancer cells to determine the stage.
- Stage 0
A person is diagnosed with stage 0 (in-situ) lung cancer if abnormal cells are found in the bronchus (airway starting from the windpipe to the lungs) or the top lining of the lung. These abnormal cells may become cancerous and start spreading to nearby healthy tissue.
- Stage I
People who have developed cancerous lung tumours in their lungs are diagnosed with stage I lung cancer, which is an early stage of the disease. In this stage, cancer does not start spreading to other parts of the lungs or other organs and remains in the lungs till the end of the stage.
- Stage II
If the lung cancer is stationed nearby the lymph nodes and started spreading to them, the patient is diagnosed with stage II cancer. Some stage II cases may also have more than one lung tumour in the same lobe (section) of the lung.
- Stage III
The patient is said to have stage III cancer if they have a larger tumour than stage II and has spread to nearby lymph nodes or different lobes of the same lung.
- Stage IV
If the cancer has spread to both lungs or the fluid around the lungs or the heart, the patients is diagnosed with stage IV cancer. This condition is not usually curable, and doctors focus the treatment on prolonging the life of the patient.
Treatment of lung cancer
Best lung cancer treatment focus on removing the cancer from your body either through surgery or slowing its rapid growth. Your doctor will determine your lung cancer treatment according to the stage in addition to the following factors:
- Type of lung cancer
- Overall health and medical history
- Tolerance for lung cancer treatments
- Prognosis for the disease
- Your preference
Based on these factors, a specialist for lungs (pulmonologist) will prepare a lung cancer care plan including one or more of the following treatment options.
Lung cancer treatment given prior to surgery is referred to as neoadjuvant treatment. It usually involves radiation therapy or chemotherapy for reducing the size of the tumour, which makes its removal during surgery easy, and for curing lung cancer. However, the surgery may not be able to remove all cancer cells from the body. For this purpose, chemotherapy or radiation therapy will likely be recommended soon after the surgery. This treatment is called adjuvant treatment, which also lowers the chances of recurring lung cancer.
- Lung cancer surgery
The surgery is usually a part of lung cancer treatment for early-stage lung cancers. Traditionally, the surgery (thoracotomy) was performed by making a large incision on the side of the chest, breaking or opening up the ribs, and removing the lung tumour and surrounding healthy tissue. Nowadays, a minimally invasive procedure—video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS)—is used in some cases of early-stage lung cancer. VATS is performed with the help of a robot being controlled by a head surgeon.
The following surgeries are recommended based on the stage and type of lung cancer among other factors:
- Wedge resection or segmental lung surgery
This is performed when the tumour is relatively small and close to the surface; the surgeon will remove a small section of the lung.
Our lungs are divided into different lobes, which are further divided into different segments. The right lung has three lobes, and the left lung has two lobes. A lobectomy is performed to remove one lobe of the lung containing cancer.
This procedure is conducted to remove one entire lung if the cancer is spread throughout the lung.
- Sleeve resection
If the tumour is present in the bronchus, the surgeon will remove the affected piece of the bronchus and reattached the divided pieces.
- Radiation therapy
This is an advanced lung cancer treatment method that uses high-energy radiation to cure lung cancer by shrinking tumours and killing cancer cells. It may be combined with chemotherapy for lung cancer to treat the disease. Radiation therapy usually lasts about a few minutes and is painless.
Radiation therapy can be administered externally with the help of a large machine that sends high level radiation directly to the lung tumour or internally by implanting radioactive elements inside the tumour.
Chemotherapy for lung cancer is a broad-spectrum treatment method utilised to cure lung cancer that attacks tumour cells throughout the body. One of the biggest downside of chemotherapy is that it also attacks healthy cells in the body. Chemotherapy drugs are usually administered intravenously. Your specialist for the lungs might recommend lung cancer treatment without chemotherapy, but it is usually recommended before or after other lung cancer treatments.
- Targeted therapy
This method searches cancer cells and nearby cells aiding the growth of cancer cells and destroys them. Although targeted therapy works well for people with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCL), it does not work for every patient. Your lung specialist might conduct a biopsy of your lung tumour to observe if you are eligible for this treatment.
These targeted drug treatments focus on specific parts of cancer cells and usually work for cancer cells with certain genetic mutations. Most targeted therapy drugs are reserved for people with recurring or advanced lung cancer.
Our immune system is usually equipped in fighting any disease, but cancer cells have certain protein markers that disable the immune system from fighting them. Immunotherapy drugs, such as anti-PD-1, block these protein markers so that the immune system can keep fighting the cancer cells. Anti-PD-1 is known to reduce the size of a lung tumour significantly in about one-fourth of the patients who were given immunotherapy. Moreover, other drugs, such as atezolizumab, nivolumab, and pembrolizumab, have been approved to treat certain non-small cell lung cancers.
- Palliative care
People with lung cancer experience symptoms from the disease and other side-effects from the treatment itself. Lung cancer treatment can be harsh for many people; for this reason, doctors often prescribe patients palliative (or supportive) care to deal with these symptoms and side-effects.
- Radiation therapy
A study also revealed that patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer who started receiving palliative care soon after diagnosis lived longer than people who didn’t.
Alternative medicine for lung cancer treatment
There are other treatment methods that can supplement the mainstream lung cancer treatment to reduce discomfort and alleviate the symptoms of lung cancer. Some of these complimentary treatments for lung cancer are listed below:
Lung cancer patients can benefit from the breathing techniques and calming motions of a gentle yoga practice. This promotes blood flow and can improve the mental health of the patient.
Lung cancer can negatively impact the mental health of any patient; indulging in mindful mediation practices can help them cope with the illness more easily.
This technique is performed by trained professionals who insert small needles into specific points on your body to relieve pain and ease some side-effects of the lung cancer treatments.
This process is performed by a therapist who promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety, pain, and nausea in lung cancer patients.
Lung cancer patients might benefit from a relaxing massage. This can relieve pain and anxiety in them.
Please note that these treatment methods cannot cure lung cancer and can only promote emotional and physical well-being of lung cancer patients. Some people may experience improved lung health after indulging in these alternate treatments, but the patient should never miss treatment recommended by the doctors.
Can lung cancer be prevented?
You can take preventive measures to reduce the risk of developing cancer as there is no known cause of most cancers. Following these practices can reduce your risk of developing lung cancer:
- Quit smoking, this includes hookah and vapes
- Avoid passive (or second-hand) smoking
- Eat a balanced diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Go for regular screenings if you fall under a high-risk category
Here are some of the risk factors of lung cancer:
- Exposure to second-hand smoke
- Exposure to radiation therapy
- Exposure to radon gas
- Exposure to known carcinogens such as asbestos
- Family history of lung cancer
Outlook for people with lung cancer
If diagnosed early on, patients with lung cancer can be cured and lead a healthy life. However, there is a chance of recurring lung cancer after being completely treated. Thus, your lung specialist will recommend you to make some change in your lifestyle to minimise that risk, such as:
- Not smoking (not even vapes)
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet
- Regular screenings for lung cancer
Some clinical trials are currently underway for preventing lung cancer and improving available treatment methods, including chemoprevention and photodynamic therapy.
Can lung cancer be treated successfully?
Yes, lung cancer is treatable at every stage. However, the lung cancer cure rate depends on the type and stage of the disease in addition to some other factors. Lung cancer can be cured for people with early-stage lung cancer, but people with advanced lung cancer might receive treatment for increasing their life expectancy.
What is the best treatment for lung cancer?
Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) is one of the best treatments for early-stages of lung cancer as it can be used to remove the majority of the cancer cells from the body. Other treatment methods for lung cancer include:
a. Radiation therapy
c. Targeted therapy
What is the survival rate of lung cancer treatment?
The survival rate for different stages of lung cancer is presented here:
a. Stage I: more than 55% people survive for 5 years or more after being diagnosed
b. Stage II: about 35% people surviving for 5 years or more
c. Stage III: about 15% people surviving for 5 years or more
d. Stage IV: about 5% people surviving for 5 years or more
*Stage 0 lung cancer patients have about 65% or more chances of surviving for 5 years or longer.
Which stage of lung cancer is curable?
As the stages of lung cancer progress, the possibility of curing lung cancer rapidly decreases. Stage 0 lung cancer is the most easily curable (usually by surgery alone), whereas stage IV lung cancer cannot be cured.