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November 04, 2020
Understanding Lung Cancer and Treatment Options
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Understanding Lung Cancer and Treatment Options

If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer cancer, it is important to understand lung cancer and all the treatment options.

Lung cancer can develop within right or left lungs and sometimes within the bronchi. The right lung has three lobes and the left lung has two lobes. The bronchi are two tubes that lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs. The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell (adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma) and small cell lung cancer (small cell carcinoma or oat cell cancer). Lung cancer can also be a mix of small cell and non-small cell carcinoma. Other types of lung cancer include lung carcinoid tumors and malignant pleural mesothelioma, although these types of lung cancer are rare.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for 80% to 85% of all lung cancer diagnoses, according to American Cancer Society.

There are several types of treatments that are used for lung cancer. Treatment is determined by the history (type) of cancer and the stage. The following are the common treatment options for lung cancer.


  • Wedge or segmental resection involves removing the tumor and a portion of surrounding tissue.
  • Lobectomy removes an entire lobe.
  • Pneumonectomy removes one lung.
  • Sleeve resection removes part of the bronchus.

To learn more about surgery options, visit Lung Cancer Surgery: Understanding Your Options on the Sarah Cannon Blog.

Radiation therapy

  • Radiation therapy can be used for patients with early stage disease who cannot have surgery and is part of the standard of care treatment for stage III patients. Stage IV patients can benefit from palliative radiation to improve pain and other symptoms.
  • External radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays directed at the cancer from outside the body. It is the most common type of radiation used in the treatment of lung cancer.
  • Internal radiation therapy involves implanting a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds or wires directly into or near the cancer.


  • Chemotherapy is the use of cytotoxic medications to kill cancer cells.
  • Systemic chemotherapy is administered orally or via an injection into the vein or muscle.
  • Regional chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ or a body cavity where the cancer is located.

Laser therapy

  • A laser beam that kills cancer cells.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for 80% to 85% of all lung cancer, according to American Cancer Society. Here are treatment options specifically for non-small cell lung cancer:

Targeted therapy

  • Monoclonal antibodies are antibodies made in the laboratory from a single type of immune system cell that identifies what may help cancer cells grow and blocks them.
  • Small-molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitors are drugs that work inside cancer cells and block signals needed for tumors to grow.


  • Immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy that uses targeted drugs to convince the body’s immune system to recognize that there is something foreign in the body (cancer) and to attack the cells threatening it.
  • Immunotherapy is not used in patients with early stage disease.
  • Immunotherapy is given by infusion.
  • Some examples of immunotherapy are:
    • Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
    • Nivolumab (Opdivo)
    • Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

  • A drug-and-laser light combination that kills cancer cells.

Cryosurgery (cryotherapy)

  • A treatment that freezes and destroys abnormal tissue, such as carcinoma in situ.


  • A probe or needle that is heated by an electric current and then used to destroy abnormal tissue.

Watchful waiting

  • Closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change (used in certain cases of non-small cell lung cancer).

Sarah Cannon Research Institute has been involved in many clinical trials for targeted therapies for lung cancer. For more information on the Sarah Cannon Lung Cancer Research Program, watch this video with Dr. David Spigel, the Director of the program and Sarah Cannon’s Chief Scientific Officer.


National Cancer Institute
American Cancer Society
Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics

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