Other treatments for non-small cell lung cancer
The following treatments are mainly offered when a tumour has grown into the main airway and is blocking it, causing breathlessness. The aim of these treatments is to ease symptoms.
Cryosurgery, or cryotherapy, uses extreme cold to freeze and destroy cancer cells.
Cryotherapy can only deal with very small amounts of tumour, so it isn't an alternative to more common treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Cryotherapy is mainly used in the rare situation where the tumour has grown into the main airway leading into the lungs (the trachea). This causes the trachea to narrow, which can lead to obstruction and breathlessness.
You’ll have a general anaesthetic for this treatment. While you’re asleep the doctor will perform a bronchoscopy, which helps to guide an instrument called a cryoprobe close to the tumour. Liquid nitrogen is then circulated through the probe to freeze the tumour. This treatment can be repeated if the tumour grows back.
Cryosurgery isn’t widely available in the UK, so you may have to travel for treatment.
Diathermy (or electrocautery) uses an electrical current passed through a probe to destroy cancer cells. It can be used on its own or sometimes with internal radiotherapy.
The probe is put down a tube (bronchoscope) which is inserted into your windpipe by a doctor. If your airway is blocked, diathermy can make it easier for internal radiotherapy to be carried out.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
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Photodynamic therapy uses lasers or other light sources, combined with a light-sensitive drug (sometimes called a photosensitising agent) to destroy cancer cells.
The light-sensitive drug is given as a liquid into a vein. Once the drug is taken up by the cancer cells, the laser light is directed at the tumour using a bronchoscope.
PDT will make you temporarily sensitive to light, so you’ll need to avoid bright light for a couple of days to a few months, depending on the photosensitising drug that is used. Other side effects include swelling, inflammation, breathlessness and a cough.
PDT can sometimes be used if the cancer is only growing into the wall of one of the main airways (endobronchial cancer) and is at a very early stage.
It’s still being researched as a treatment for advanced lung cancer and is not suitable for everyone. Your doctor can give you more information. PDT is only available at some centres.