Lung Cancer Treatment

lung cancer treatment

Most patients with lung cancer receive several types of treatment which may include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. External beam radiation therapy is commonly used during the course of a patient’s lung cancer treatment. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with lung cancer – small cell or non-small cell – you have options for where to receive radiation therapy. Find a location that’s close to you in the greater Atlanta area.

External Beam Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer

External radiation therapy uses high-intensity beams of radiation, directed at a very specific area of the body, to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Because lung cancer can be present in a large area, it’s not used for every patient.

Treating Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer with External Beam Radiation

Patients who meet one of the following criteria are often good candidates for external beam radiation therapy for non-small cell lung cancer:

  • A tumor that can’t be removed because of its size or location.
  • If the patient isn’t healthy enough to undergo surgery
  • Before surgery to try to shrink the tumor which makes it easier to remove
  • After surgery to kill any small areas of lung cancer that might not have been taken out.

External Radiation Therapy for Patients with Small Cell Lung Cancer

Patients with small cell lung cancer have radiation therapy used in a different way than non-small cell lung cancer patients. These patients receive radiation for one of these conditions:

  • To treat the tumor and lymph nodes in the chest. If chemotherapy has begun and radiation is given over that same period of time, this is called concurrent chemoradiation. This, however, can’t be tolerated by all patients.
  • For those who have extensive disease, or for those with limited stage lung cancer who couldn’t tolerate chemoradiation, radiation therapy can be given after the chemotherapy phase of treatment is complete.
  • To help lower the chances of cancer spreading to the brain, prophylactic (preventative) cranial irradiation may be given.

What’s best for each patient will be decided during the treatment planning phase. There are several types of external beam radiation that could be used to treat lung cancer, depending on where the cancer is located.

Types of External Beam Radiation Therapy That May be Used for Lung Cancer Patients

Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT)

Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT) is an advanced type of radiation technology most often used to treat early-stage lung cancers when surgery isn’t an option. Rather than administering a small dose of radiation each day for several weeks, SBRT uses very focused beams of high-dose radiation, which are given in fewer treatments. Several beams are aimed at the tumor from different angles. A specially-designed body frame is used to help reduce movement of the lung tumor during breathing so it can be precisely targeted.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

This type of external beam radiation called Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) allows precise targeting of tumor cells. IMRT also makes it possible for the radiation oncologist to vary the intensity of some of the beams of radiation to focus more carefully in some areas than in others. This type of radiation may also be used to treat lymph nodes in the chest where lung cancer is likely to spread.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)

Stereotactic radiosurgery is a type of external radiation therapy used to treat lung cancer that has limited spread to the brain.

For SRS, a custom head frame is made to keep the head very still during the radiation treatment. A machine delivers a single large dose of radiation directly at the tumor(s) in the brain.

Fractionated SRS may be used to deliver large doses of radiation over three to five treatment sessions for multiple lesions or those near critical areas of the brain.

3-Dimensional Conformal Radiation Therapy

Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT) allows doctors to direct radiation beams to conform to the shape of the tumor. 3D conformal radiation uses images from CT, MRI, and PET scans to precisely plan the treatment areas through a process called simulation. A computer program is then used to analyze the images and to design radiation beams that conform to the shape of the tumor. The precise shaping makes it possible to use higher doses of radiation to the tumor while sparing normal tissue.

Possible Side Effects of External Lung Cancer Radiation

Before undergoing radiation therapy, talk with your radiation oncologist about what to expect, including the possible short-term and long-term side effects. Side effects will depend on factors such as the treatment area, total dose of radiation, type of radiation therapy used, and whether chemotherapy is given at the same time (chemoradiation).

Common side effects of radiation therapy for lung cancer can include:

  • Feeling very tired
  • Hair loss
  • Red, dry, or peeling skin at the radiation site
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Cough
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss

Although most side effects go away on their own, some may last a long time or become permanent. Talk to your oncologist or radiation therapist right away if you notice any side effects so steps can be taken to reduce or relieve them.