Lung Cancer Treatment

The two major types of lung cancers are in essence two completely different diseases, each of which has its own recommended therapies. Non-small cell lung cancers (squamous, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma) are potentially curable with surgery, but largely unresponsive to chemotherapy. Patients with distant metastases from non-small cell lung cancer can be treated palliatively with radiation. Conversely small cell lung cancers do respond to chemotherapy and radiation, but are usually too far advanced at diagnosis for a surgical cure.

Surgically resectable non-small cell lung cancers have the best cure rate because they are usually Stage I or II (localized) tumors. An alternative medically inoperable non-small cell lung cancer is curative radiation. More advanced disease (positive lymph nodes, or inoperable tumors) also respond to radiation therapy. Stage IIIB tumors (extensive primary or contralateral nodes) are best treated with radiation.

Small cell carcinoma is extremely virulent, with a rapid clinical course if left untreated. However, because of its rapid growth rate (it tends to be widely disseminated at the time of diagnosis), it is also more responsive to chemotherapy and irradiation than non-small cell carcinoma. Surgery is not recommended for small cell carcinoma.