The kind of treatment you are offered for your lung cancer depends on a number of factors. These factors include the type of lung cancer you have, where it is located, how far it has spread to other parts of your body, and your overall general health. Often, individuals who have been diagnosed with lung cancer received more than one type of treatment.
The goals of cancer treatment may be different for different individuals. Those who have a chance for cure will be offered curative treatments. The goal of these treatments is to cure the cancer or to make it disappear. If the cancer cannot be cured, then treatments are given to help the individual feel more comfortable and manage the symptoms. These are called palliative treatments and the goal is to try to improve the person’s symptoms.
A new and promising approach for the treatment of lung cancer is the field of targeted therapies. When tissue is tested to identify the mutations or changes in the DNA and levels of specific proteins, doctors may be able to tell exactly what causes an individual’s tumor to grow. In this case, patients may be able to take a specific treatment that can directly ‘target’ mutations in the lung cancer cells. The treatments often have fewer side effects because they focus on the tumor cells and do not affect the normal, healthy cells. This treatment slows the tumor growth and keeps it controlled or shrinks the tumor.
Cancer treatments are classified as being either local or systemic:
- Local treatments are directed at one part of the body such as the lungs. A local treatment is given when the cancer is limited to a specific area. Radiation and surgery are both local treatments.
- Systemic treatments can affect your whole body and are given when cancer is found in several parts of the body or to reduce the chance of cancer coming back. Chemotherapy is treatment with drugs and is a systemic treatment. Targeted therapy is another form of systemic treatment.
Clinical trials are research studies of experimental lung cancer treatments. Treatments need to be studied in a systematic way to determine their effectiveness and how they ought to be used in the future. You may be offered an opportunity to participate in a clinical trial as part of your treatment plan. This decision is one to talk carefully about with your doctor.
Individuals with lung cancer may have symptoms of the cancer as well as the side effects of treatment. They may be offered a referral to a supportive care or palliative care specialty team to help with managing these symptoms and side effects. This specialty compliments the other treatments that patients are receiving and can improve mood and quality of life. It can also help patients to complete their other treatments because their side effects are managed well.