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Cancer Center

Treatment for Lung Cancer

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These categories refer to what the cancer cells look like under a microscope. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer.

Lung cancer stage depends on the extent of disease, which includes information about how big a cancer is or how far it has spread through the lungs, lymph nodes, and the rest of the body.

Doctors use information about the type of lung cancer and stage to plan treatment and to monitor progress of treatment. For more information, visit Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and Stages of Small Cell Lung Cancer.

There are several ways to treat lung cancer. The treatment depends on the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy. People with lung cancer often get more than one kind of treatment.

  • Surgery: Doctors cut out and remove the cancer in an operation.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to shrink or kill the cancer. The drugs could be pills or medicines given through an IV (intravenous) tube.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation uses high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer cells. The rays are aimed at the part of the body where the cancer is.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy uses drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. The drugs could be pills or medicines given through an IV tube. Bevacizumab (Avastin) and erlotinib (Tarceva) can be used to treat non-small cell lung cancer.

People with non-small cell lung cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments. People with small cell lung cancer are usually treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Learn about treatments for non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.

These treatments may be provided by different doctors on your medical team. Pulmonologists are doctors who are experts in diseases of the lungs. Surgeons are doctors who perform operations. Medical oncologists are doctors who are experts in cancer and treat cancers with medicines. Radiation oncologists are doctors who treat cancers with radiation.

*Information from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).