After the type, stage, and grade of your lung cancer have been determined, your healthcare team will develop a treatment plan. The kind of treatment you are offered will depend on several factors, including the type of lung cancer you have; its location, spread, and genetic changes; and the health of your lungs, as well as your overall health. This plan will be unique to you and specifically designed to achieve the best possible outcomes for your particular diagnosis.
Cancer treatments are categorized as either local or systemic. Local treatments, such as surgery and radiation therapy, can be directed at a specific part of the body. They are used when the cancer is limited to a certain area, like the lung. With surgery, the goal is to physically remove tumours and structures, like lymph nodes, to which cancer has spread. Radiation therapy directs high-energy radiation at the tumour to shrink or destroy it.
Systemic treatments, such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy, affect your entire body. They are often used when the cancer is found in several parts of the body or to reduce the chance of a recurrence—that is, the cancer coming back. Chemotherapy refers to several different drugs that can kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing and dividing. Targeted therapy takes advantage of genetic changes in the cancer cells to home in on them and disrupt essential processes. Immunotherapy stimulates the body’s natural defence mechanisms so that they can better detect and fight cancer cells.
Many patients receive more than one type of treatment. For example, after the primary tumour in the lung has been surgically removed, chemotherapy may be used to kill any remaining and undetected cancer cells.
Talk to your doctor about what your treatments are meant to accomplish and any side effects you might have. Notify your treatment team as soon as possible if you experience any side effects. These can often be relieved with medications and other measures.
If the cancer is difficult to treat or keeps coming back, your doctor may talk to you about participating in a clinical trial for new, promising treatments that are currently in development. You may also consider participating in a clinical trial to access a drug that has been shown to be efficacious but is currently not commercially available in Canada. This is entirely voluntary and you should rest assured that your treatment will not be compromised if you choose not to enter a clinical trial. Please refer to the section on clinical trials for more information.