About 13 percent of all lung cancer is curable, meaning that those diagnosed with it survive for at least five years. Regardless, all patients with lung cancer can benefit from targeted treatments that can expand lifespan and improve quality of life.
Treatment options for a specific lung cancer cure depends upon the type and stage of the cancer. While a non-small cell cancer in an early stage may find a cure with surgery alone, a small cell cancer in a similar stage may require a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, and sometimes surgery as well. In both small cell and non-small cell lung cancers, an early stage indicates that the cancer is still localized and has not spread from where it originated, while a later stage signifies that the cancer has spread to other organs.
Surgery has the potential to cure lung cancer, but only in early stages in which the cancer has not spread outside the chest. Among the procedures employed to surgically remove cancer are: wedge resection, in which a small section of the lung, including the tumor, is removed; segmental resection, in which a larger section of the lung is removed; lobectomy, in which an entire lobe of one lung is removed; and pneumonectomy, in which the entire lung is removed. However, these procedures are only possible if the patient can tolerate the surgery and does not have additional complications such as severe bronchitis or heart disease.
Many small cell lung cancers are treated with chemotherapy, either alone or in combination with surgery. This therapy involves taking drugs that kill cancer cells. The drugs may be taken either orally, as a pill, or intravenously, through a vein in the arm, and involve multiple treatments over several weeks or months. Patients on chemotherapy need to take breaks from the therapy occasionally to allow their bodies to recover. Though chemotherapy has side effects like nausea, vomiting, and hair loss, it undoubtedly prolongs lifespan and improves quality of life for patients with lung cancer.
Radiation therapy is similar to chemotherapy in that it targets and kills cancer cells. But unlike chemotherapy, radiation therapy can work from outside the body, using high-powered radiation like X-rays to kill the disease. Another option is to use needles, seeds, or catheters inside the body to channel the radiation near the cancer cells. It is sometimes used at the same time as chemotherapy.
Certain drugs also exist on the market for curing or managing lung cancer. These products work by exploiting abnormalities in cancer cells.
A less conventional path to take for treatment of lung cancer is clinical trials. Patients can enroll in these studies and receive experimental treatments, a good option for those whose current treatment isn’t working or who have limited treatment options. Each year, hundreds of lung cancer patients enroll in clinical trials; the data collected through this method of research is put to use in creating new therapies and treatments for the disease. Often, the goal of a clinical trial is simply to determine the benefit of one treatment over another.
If all these treatments fail or are not available for a treatment, the patient may opt for supportive care rather than searching for a cure. Instead of harsh or experimental treatments, supportive care can ease symptoms and comfort patients, allowing them to make the most of their remaining time without the burden of treatment side effects.