Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer

Ravi Salgia, Livia Szeto and patient, wife
Medical oncologist Ravi Salgia, MD, PhD, left, and research nurse Livia Szeto, RN, OCN, center left, meet with a lung cancer patient and the patient's wife.

Shrinking Tumors with the Right Combination Therapy

Chemotherapy may be used before, during, or after other treatments, such as surgery or radiation, for lung cancer. Typically, most patients with non-small cell lung cancer receive a combination of chemotherapy drugs.

For patients with small cell cancer, which represents a smaller percentage of patients, chemotherapy is also a mainstay treatment. Chemotherapy can dramatically shrink these fast-growing tumors--sometimes in a matter of weeks.

Adjuvant Therapy

For patients with non-small cell lung cancer, chemotherapy medicines are sometimes given after surgery or radiation. This is called adjuvant therapy.

In recent years, adjuvant therapy after surgery has revolutionized the treatment of lung cancer. The goal is to kill any microscopic cancer cells that may be present in the body and prevent cancer from returning.

Chemotherapy may be given for several months after surgery or radiation therapy. Studies suggest that in some patients, such as those with non-small cell lung cancer, chemotherapy after surgery can increase the five-year survival rate by as much as 10 or 12 percent.

In addition, studies have shown that chemotherapy can bring on remission in some patients with stage III lung cancer.

Neoadjuvant Therapy

When chemotherapy is used before surgery or radiation, this is called neoadjuvant therapy. It may be given for a few months before another treatment.

For example, neoadjuvant chemotherapy may be used in patients with non-small cell lung cancer, specifically stage III disease. This type of treatment helps shrink the tumor before surgery or radiation, to increase the likelihood of successful treatment.

Help for Advanced Cancer

If cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as in stage IV disease, chemotherapy is an option to prolong survival and reduce symptoms, such as pain. This can help improve a patient’s quality of life.

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