Most lung cancers including non small cell lung cancer are incurable; the treatment aims at shrinking the tumor to prevent complications and relieve the symptoms in order to help patients live better and longer. Along with a healthy lifestyle, the therapies can help you live for years without major complications.
However, after treatment, non small cell lung cancer can recur or relapse any time; therefore, even if you feel good during the remission, it is important that you see your doctor regularly to evaluate your health.
To determine an appropriate treatment, your oncologist will consider your general health, age, and most importantly the stage of the tumor. In general, non small cell lung cancer is treated with one or an association of the following therapies:
To have complete access to your lungs, your surgeon may perform a thoracostomy, a major surgical intervention performed under general anesthesia. Your surgeon will open your chest wall or does incision between your ribs to fully expose your lungs. During the surgery, he removes part or the entire diseased lung. Depending on the extension of the tumor, the surgeon can also remove nearby lymph nodes. The goal of the surgery is to remove as much cancerous tissue as possible to reduce symptoms and help you live longer.
Surgery is the preferred treatment of non-small cell lung cancer stages I and II. Patients who have stage IIIB or IV cancer associated with pleural or neoplastic effusion are not candidates for surgery. The surgery should be performed in the absence of contraindications such as evidence of spread of the tumor outside the lungs, endobronchial tumor located too close to the trachea, and other serious illnesses: coronary artery disease, or respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Lung Cancer Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment consists of using strong chemical agents to destroy cancer cells or prevent them from multiplying. Chemotherapy drugs can be administered orally or intravenously. Similarly, chemotherapy treatment may consist of a single chemotherapeutic agent (monochemotherapy) or several chemotherapeutic agents (polychemotherapy).
The use of chemotherapy to treat a stage I or II non-small cell lung cancer can sometimes bring good results. When the chemotherapy is administered preoperatively and before radiotherapy, it can significantly reduce the tumor mass and increase remission and overall survival. Used after surgery, chemotherapy drugs attack and destroy cancer cells remaining from the surgery.
Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy)
Radiotherapy involves exposing cancer cells to ionizing radiation that alter the composition of their genetic information. Unlike chemotherapy, radiation acts locally on the region that is irradiated, thereby limiting its action to the tumor and a small surrounding tissue. Radiotherapy may be used before or after surgery, alone or in combination with chemotherapy.
In the treatment of non small cell lung cancer, radiotherapy is sometimes used instead of surgery when the thoracotomy is contraindicated due to cardiopulmonary failure or other serious illness. Radiation therapy can bring good results in reducing bone pain associated with the tumor. In addition, radiotherapy can be very useful in some types of tumors resulting in:
- superior vena cava obstruction (SVCO)
- spinal cord compression
- brain metastases
- spitting of blood (hemoptysis)
- Bronchial obstruction.
If you have a non metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, your oncologist can use high-intensity light to shrink or destroy the tumor. This therapy cause less adverse effects, but it can only be used to treat superficial cancers.
In addition, bronchodilators, oxygen therapy, and physiotherapy may be necessary in cases of bronchial obstruction. Antibiotic therapy can be recommended in case of superinfection (an infection following a previous infection).