Treatment for lung cancer is mainly dependent on the cancer type and the stage of the disease stage.
Early stage (stage I) lung cancers are most commonly treated with surgery, which may be open chest surgery, video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) or minimally invasive robotic surgery. Surgery for stage I cancer of the lung may be followed by chemotherapy if the tumor is large.
Stage II and stage III lung cancers can be treated through surgery and a combination of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, including stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT), 3-D conformal radiation therapy or proton therapy. Stage IV lung cancers are typically inoperable, so radiation therapy may be used for palliative care with the aim of reducing pain and addressing obstructive breathing symptoms.
Potential lung cancer treatment and management methods for patients include:
For early stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and early stage small cell lung cancer (SCLC), three types of lung surgery may be available as treatment options.
- Segmentectomy or “wedge resection” is a surgery in which part of a lung lobe is removed.
- Lobectomy is a procedure in which an entire section (lobe) of a lung is removed.
- Pneumonectomy involves the removal of an entire lung.
These surgical procedures can be performed through different approaches, depending on several factors, including the location of tumor or tumors and the patient’s health.
Open chest surgery
Also referred to as a thoracotomy, open chest surgery involves an incision between the ribs in the side of the chest and typically requires a hospital stay of 5 to 7 days.
Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)
VATS lung surgery is performed through small incisions by surgeons aided by use of a small video camera inserted in the patient’s chest cavity.
Minimally invasive robotic surgery
This surgery is performed through the use of a magnified 3-D high-definition vision system and tiny, precisely maneuverable instruments that provide greater range of mobility and dexterity than the human wrist. Robotic surgery requires extensive training and certification. Scripps is one of the only San Diego health care providers to offer this procedure as an option for lung cancer surgery with the goal of shorter hospital stays and reduced pain for patients.
Our renowned radiation oncology experts offer state-of-the-art external beam radiation therapy options to treat all types of cancer, including cancer of the lung. Radiation therapy for lung cancer may include:
3-D conformal radiotherapy
This therapy allows physicians to visualize a patient’s anatomy in 3 dimensions through use of advanced computer software in order to match the radiation dose to the shape of the tumor while minimizing exposure of surrounding healthy tissues and organs.
Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT)
Also known as stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), SBRT can be used to treat tumors in almost any part of the body, including the lungs, spine and prostate. Multiple radiation treatments (typically two to five) are delivered to a precise volume.
Proton therapy for lung cancer
This therapy uses a controlled beam of protons to target and destroy tumors with unprecedented accuracy. Unlike other forms of radiation, the precise delivery of proton energy limits damage to surrounding healthy tissues.
Chemotherapy treatment uses drugs (administered orally or intravenously) to attack cancerous cells directly or indirectly. The aim is to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth.
Scripps Health offers chemotherapy in several locations throughout San Diego County, including Scripps hospitals, outpatient infusion centers, or in Scripps affiliated physicians’ offices. All infusion treatments are managed by physicians and nurses specially trained in oncology.
Scripps nurses administering chemotherapy have completed extensive training and education through the Oncology Nursing Society. Many Scripps clinical pharmacists have advanced training in chemotherapy preparation and treatment. A team of multidisciplinary professionals — including a dedicated lung cancer nurse navigator — works collaboratively to provide patients the highest quality of care and comfort.
Infusion services and locations
New medications and advancements in chemotherapy allow most patients to receive their infusion therapy in an outpatient setting. Each visit to a Scripps Health infusion center includes a nurse assessment to determine how a patient is tolerating treatment. The assessment includes recommendations, educational materials and consultation with a pharmacist if needed.
Chemotherapy and other infusion treatments can produce physical symptoms that may be controlled through medication, nutrition and relaxation techniques. Nurses and pharmacists at all Scripps infusion centers work with patients to help manage any symptoms.
Scripps Health physicians and scientists are actively involved in cancer research and studies to provide greater understanding of cancer biology and enable a faster availability of new treatments to patients.
If you are interested in participating in clinical trials, please discuss with your physician clinical trials options and potentially appropriate matches.