Non Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment
The treatment of non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) usually depends on how big the cancer is and whether it has spread.
In early stage NSCLC the cancer can usually be removed through surgery giving a person a fighting chance of being cured. Unfortunately in the majority of cases NSCLC is usually well advanced by the time it’s discovered. If the cancer is very advanced surgery is not an option and usually the treatment is chemotherapy which is aimed at prolonging life and improving symptoms rather than curing.
Sometimes with non small cell lung cancer a course of chemotherapy is given before surgery in a procedure called downsizing which can shrink the tumor making it easier to remove.
Types of surgery for NSCLC treatment
If surgery is an option it usually falls into one of three types of operation.
If the cancer is very localized and diagnosed early enough a small section of the lung containing the cancer could be removed. This is known either as a “wedge resection” or a “segmentectomy” (the latter involves removing a slightly larger section).
In the cancer is bigger but remains in one section of the lung, known as a lobe, the surgeon could perform a lobectomy.
The most radical type of surgery is called a pneumonectomy, which involves the removal of a whole lung. This is usually recommended only if the surgeon thinks the cancer cells have spread elsewhere in that lung but not to the second lung.
Removing a whole lung makes it sound as though a person will never be able to breathe properly again but actually people can breathe normally with just one lung. Although it’s worth remembering that if a person had breathing problems before the surgery it’s likely that these will continue afterwards.
As with any surgery there are risks but the fitter you are the less likely there are to be complications. And if you haven’t given up smoking already, do it immediately. Even a week or so without a cigarette can improve lung function and breathing.
If the cancer has spread beyond the lung then surgery will not cure it. It will only remove the cancer from the lung and will have no effect on a secondary cancer in the body. When this is the case, doctors would be looking at giving chemotherapy and radiotherapy to help relieve symptoms and prolong a person’s life rather than at a cure.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy Treatment
Unfortunately chemotherapy doesn’t work as well on non small cell lung cancer as it does with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) because the cancerous cells aren’t as sensitive. However it can be useful in relieving symptoms.
As with SCLC, chemotherapy is either given as one drug or as a combination of drugs and in the majority of cases it’s given intravenously over a period of time. Chemotherapy can have some unpleasant side effects such as nausea, tiredness and hair loss.
These days many doctors recommend a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy as the most effective treatment for advanced NSCLC. The radiotherapy works on killing just the cancer cells while leaving the surrounding healthy tissue alone while the chemotherapy will keep the symptoms at bay.
How many treatments a person receives depends on how successful that treatment turns out to be. If the cancer is not responding it’s normally recommended that the treatment is stopped. After all, there’s little point subjecting yourself to an ineffective treatment which gives you nasty side effects.