Treatment for lung cancer depends upon a variety of factors. Just as with other cancers, treatment protocols are designed around the type of tumor, the stage of the tumor and the cell differentiation in the tumor. In order to determine the correct treatment protocols the individual must undergo several testing procedures that go well beyond standard imaging such as chest x-rays or CT scans. These imaging procedures are used to help stage the cancer, or rather find out if the tumor has metastasized to other parts of the body.
Once the cancer has been staged, both the physician and the individual can discuss the different options that are available for the specific situation. At this point an individual will have a better idea of the different types of therapy and the expected outcomes. Other factors will be taken into account which include the persons general health, other medical issues which the individual may be facing and the overall characteristics of the tumor.
Staging the lung cancer will help to separate individuals into two separate groups. There are those individuals who are at a low risk of the cancer recurring and there are those who are at a higher risk of the cancer recurring. These factors are dependent upon previous lifestyle choices as well as tumor tissue types. This forecasting will help place patients in the correct treatment protocol groups.
Individual situations where the tumor has not spread, a surgical resection, or taking out the tumor, is generally indicated. Surgeons can choose to use several different techniques in order to remove the tumor but the ultimate results should be the same, absolute removal of the lung cancer. There are specific techniques which are less invasive than others and the surgeon will make their decision based upon the placement of the tumor as well as the overall health of the individual and how well the surgeon estimates the patient will tolerate general anesthesia.
Unfortunately some surgical procedures may cause the individual to suffer from a low number of lymphocytes, white blood cells, in the blood. This particular factor is linked with shorter survival times among patients who have advanced lung cancer. At this time researchers theorize that this condition, lymphocytopenia, may be related to a deficiency in interleukin-2. This is a hormone that controls the activity of the T lymphocytes, important in the functioning of the immune system. Some physicians use pre-operative treatment with recombinant human interleukin 2 that they believe will help prevent the lymphocytopenia that happens after surgery for operable lung cancer.
In addition to surgery interventions, if the tumor is aggressive or widespread, the physician will also recommend specific chemotherapy and radiation therapy to help manage the progress or growth of the tumors. Although both of these options have improved in safety over the past decade, they both are significantly cytotoxic to the entire body. This means that although the drugs are specifically designed to attack the tumor cells, as is the radiation therapy, they also do attack other cells in the body which have a high rate of growth. This accounts for many of these side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
In the cases of individuals who have inoperable lung cancer because of the placement of the cancer or because of the spread of the disease, photodynamic therapy may be used to help decrease the growth of the tumor cells. During photodynamic therapy a light activated chemical is injected. During a scheduled bronchoscopy the tumor is illuminated by a laser fiber. This laser light is used to destroy the sensitized tumor tissue. Patients who undergo photodynamic therapy will also find that skin photosensitivity is a side effect and should avoid direct exposure to sun light for at least six weeks. This includes sitting for periods of greater than 30 minutes in front of a window.
While patients who have inoperable lung cancer may feel that chemotherapy and radiation are their last choice, research has found that these treatment protocols offer good results in shrinking the tumor and are known to prolong the life of the individual for extended periods of time in most patients. Chemotherapy and radiation is also very effective in relieving the symptoms of the lung cancer.
Treatment of lung cancer in later stages, when the tumor has metastasized throughout the body, is treated with chemotherapy and palliative radiation therapy to the areas of metastases. As a means of preventive care, the brain may sometimes be treated with radiation even if no tumor is present. Some recent research has shown benefit of chemotherapy in early stages for preventing or delaying the recurrence of the tumor even if surgery is felt to have completely removed the cells.
Treatments of lung cancer should be a joint decision made by the individual and the healthcare practitioner. Individuals should seek the care and advice of oncology specialists who focus immediately on the treatment and care of individuals with long cancer. The options available today give patients the best chance possible to live their remaining years without pain or discomfort.
National Cancer Institute: Treatment
MayoClinic: Lung Cancer
LungCancer.org: Types and Staging of Lung Cancer