Your doctor will consider several factors to determine an appropriate and effective treatment. He will base on the “stage” of the cancer, your health and your age. After all, you will be invited to participate in the final decision. Some patients may consider the side effects of the treatment outweigh its benefits, and decide to follow a palliative treatment to relieve pain and improve the period of life they have left to live.
In case you decide to undergo the treatment, your oncologist will use chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery; a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be used to increase your chance of surviving.
Lung Cancer Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment involving the use of very strong chemical to stop reproduction of cancer cells. Those drugs travel the body through the bloodstream to combat cancer cells, and possibly shrink the tumor. Initially, small-cell lung cancer responds well to chemotherapy, but relapses are common, unfortunately. The chemotherapy drugs can reduce the size of the tumor, slow its growth, and prevent metastases. Chemotherapy usually lasts a few weeks or months, with periodic pause to allow your body to recover.
However, in addition to cancer cells, normal cells are also damaged by the chemotherapeutic agents. This may lead to several side effects:
- hair loss
- stomach upset
- muscle aches
- joint pain
- mouth sores.
Radiotherapy (Radiation Therapy)
Your oncologist may consider radiation therapy if the cancer has invaded other tissues or locates too close to the trachea. Radiotherapy is also used to treat serious small-cell lung cancer to prevent tumor from growing. In these cases, treatment aims to reduce or prevent bone pain, compression of the vena cava and the nerves in the spinal cord. Unlike surgery, radiation therapy may be used in the treatment of all stages of small cell cancer lung, even if the tumor has metastasized. The radiation can be delivered externally or externally (brachytherapy).
Radiation therapy does not heal the cancer. It is used to shrink or limit the growth of cancers that cannot be surgically removed. About 15 percent of small cell lung cancer patients have a long-term remission when radiotherapy is used as a sole therapy.
Surgery is rarely performed in the treatment of small cell lung cancer; it is considered only when the cancer is confined to the lung without any spread to the lymph nodes or other distant organs. In fact, surgical intervention is performed in less than 25% of small cell lung cancers. The problem to perform surgery in the treatment of small cell lung cancer is that 80% of the cancers are diagnosed at in advanced stage. At diagnosis, small cell lung cancer has metastasized:
- 75% into the liver
- 50% into the adrenal
- 40% into pancreas
- 30% into the central nervous system
- 20% into the bone marrow and/or bone.
Targeted Drug Therapy
This method to treat lung cancer is new and seems very promising. It consists of using drugs that target at a specific level, the development of tumor cells and prevent them from multiplying. The drug intervenes mainly in signal transduction of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTK). By acting on specific receptors, these drugs can:
- block the growth of cancer cells, and prevent their proliferation into other healthy tissues;
- prevent the tumor to transform normal cells into cancerous cells;
- strengthen the immune system of your body to turn against the cancer cells;
- Recommend the death of the cancer cells. Cancer cells do not obey to the apoptosis, the natural cell death. Targeted drug therapy forces them to commit suicide naturally.