Treatment for Lung Cancer
Treatment for lung cancer can vary significantly based on several factors of the disease (like type and stage) and the individual (like their age and heath). The best forms of treatment are discussed with the patient's care team after their primary oncologist evaluates every factor of their diagnosis.
Lung Cancer Treatment Factors
Lung cancer is often thought of as a singular disease, but in truth, lung cancer can be broken down into types; small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). While most of the associated lung cancer treatment methods are used for both forms, two treatments are more commonly performed on people suffering from NSCLC: targeted therapy and radiofrequency ablation.
Other factors of lung cancer treatment are concerned with the individual outside of their diagnosis. These include age, sex, physical health, and genetics. Older patients may not be able to withstand aggressive lung cancer treatments as well as someone younger.
Types of Treatment for Lung Cancer
A cancer specialist determines the type of treatment used by looking at the individual’s health and history. Some treatments, while potentially more curative than other options, can be too aggressive for patients more advanced in age or in poorer health. In many cases, a lung cancer treatment plan will include a variety of therapies and multiple forms of treatment. Survival rates and life expectancy of lung cancer vary among the different treatment types and early vs. late stages.
A primary mode of lung cancer treatment, surgery is typically the first treatment considered by an oncologist treating someone’s cancer. However, it is a more aggressive treatment that isn’t always recommended if the patient is in poor health, or if it could significantly impact the quality of life.
An oncologist and surgeon will talk with the patient and assess his or her needs and health before suggesting any kind of surgery. Some procedures for SCLC and NSCLC are:
- Sleeve resection
A category of medications, chemotherapy (chemo) has been a prominent method of lung cancer treatment for cancer for decades. Chemotherapy is administered in one of two ways: systemic and intraoperative.
Systemic chemotherapy means that medication is used throughout the whole body. In this process, the chemo medication used can’t distinguish between healthy and cancerous cells and attacks the entire body. In intraoperative chemotherapy, chemo is applied directly to areas where surgeons have operated and removed tumors. Ultimately, this relieves some of the discomforts that systemic chemotherapy can cause.
Common chemotherapy medications include:
When treating SCLC or NSCLC, oncologists can use radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancerous cells. External beam radiation therapy (EBRT), the most common form of radiation, involves a concentrated beam to target the tumors without affecting the surrounding area. EBRT is divided into small sessions lasting only a few minutes, several times a week for several weeks (as determined by a specialist). However, newer techniques can be used and affect the number of sessions a patient goes through. These techniques include:
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)
- Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT)
Generally, the negative side of traditional chemotherapy is that it cannot target cancer cells specifically. In most cases, it is administered systemically and so attacks the entire body, potentially weakening the individual who is simply trying to treat their cancer. This is where immunotherapy can help.
Immunotherapy boosts the body’s natural immune system to help fight cancer. Also, this helps patients who may not be as receptive to more aggressive treatments (such as surgery) and helps them fight their cancer in a way that is less harmful to the body.
While still considered an “emerging lung cancer treatment,” immunotherapy has shown positive effects in the long term, with less hazardous side effects.
Targeted therapy uses angiogenesis inhibitors to block the growth of cancer cells. These inhibitors are administered in cases of advanced lung cancer for NSCLC. These inhibitors include:
Aside from angiogenesis inhibitors, there are other medications in targeted therapy that target mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). EGFR is responsible for cell activity, including growing and dividing. In people with NSCLC, the cancerous cells can have too much EGFR, which will, in turn, cause them to grow much faster than healthy cells in the body. Medications that inhibit cells with too much EGFR do so by looking for mutations in that gene. These medications include:
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) can be used either in a curative or palliative way. RFA is especially useful for individuals who may need to avoid aggressive surgery.
For the procedure, surgeons, guided by a CT scan, will insert a needle-like probe through the skin and into the tip of the tumor. Then, an electric current is used to heat the probe and the tumor, destroying the cancerous cells.
While the above forms of lung cancer treatment are primarily used as curative therapies, there are times when oncologists and surgeons use them as palliative care. Palliative care is any treatment that is used to relieve symptoms of lung cancer or side effects of its treatment.
This can mean using radiation to shrink tumors that may be causing discomfort or even surgery to alleviate the pain of complications like pleural effusion.
Clinical trials are special rounds of medication and combination therapies that have yet to be approved by the FDA and, sometimes, not yet tested on humans. While these lung cancer treatments can have promising results, not everyone may qualify.
Before looking for a clinical trial, a person with lung cancer must consult their oncologist to see if clinical trials suit their prognosis. If an oncologist approves it, the individual will go through an interview process to learn if they are the right fit for the trial.
Factors that can determine if someone is a right fit for a trial can include:
- Family history
- Personal medical history
- Current medications
- Current Smoker or Not
It is essential for people who survive lung cancer to check up with their doctor regularly. Lung cancer survivors could be at a higher risk of developing a new disease or second cancer.
Survivors of SCLC and NSCLC are most at risk of developing the other form. Other cancers they are likely to develop include:
- Esophageal cancer
- Larynx cancer
- Mouth or throat cancer
- Thyroid cancer
It is also possible, though less likely that they could develop cancer in a different part of the body (such as the stomach, colon, and pancreas). Regular screenings and early detection are critical for any cancer survivor.
If you have gone into remission, talk with your doctor about your chances of developing second cancer.
Affording Hospital Bills
Unfortunately, lung cancer treatment can be costly, and even with insurance, many people going through it are left with insurmountable debt. However, there are times when a person’s lung cancer isn’t something that has happened to them by accident but by the negligence of another party or company.
If you, or someone you love, has been diagnosed with lung cancer, then it’s possible that you could be eligible for legal compensation. Reach out to an attorney specializing in lung cancer cases to learn if you are eligible.