Treatment overview for non-small cell lung cancer

People with non-small cell lung cancer are given different types of treatment depending on the stage of their cancer.

Stage 1

Non-small cell lung cancer can often be removed with surgery. If people have other medical problems, or aren’t fit enough to have surgery, then radiotherapy may be given instead. Chemotherapy is sometimes used after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

It’s also sometimes given before surgery and/or radiotherapy. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.

Occasionally, radiofrequency ablation (RFA) may be used. This is only likely to be suggested if other treatments aren’t suitable for you. RFA is only available at some cancer centres, so you may have to travel for this treatment.

Stage 2

It may be possible to remove stage 2 non-small cell lung cancer with surgery. Radiotherapy may be used for people who aren’t fit enough for surgery or choose not to have it. Chemotherapy is often given following surgery or radiotherapy, to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Stage 3

Non-small cell lung cancer can sometimes be removed with surgery, although this isn’t often possible because it may have spread too far. Chemotherapy may sometimes be given before an operation (neo-adjuvant treatment). It’s more common to have chemotherapy or radiotherapy after surgery (adjuvant treatment).

If surgery isn’t possible, chemotherapy may be given instead. Radiotherapy may sometimes be given after the chemotherapy. You may also be treated with a targeted therapy.

Stage 4

Non-small cell lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, or is affecting more than one lobe of the lung, is often treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The aim is to control symptoms and maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible. Sometimes, a targeted therapy may be used if chemotherapy is no longer working. Radiotherapy may be used to shrink the cancer and reduce symptoms. Other treatments to relieve symptoms, such as laser therapy, cryosurgery and photodynamic therapy may also be used.

Back to Coming to your decision

How treatments are made available

Many cancer drugs are available on the NHS. Other cancer drugs may be accessible through other routes.

Finding out your treatment options

Knowing basic information about your type of cancer and different treatments options can help you to make an informed treatment decision.

What can you do if a treatment is not available?

You can apply or pay for many cancer drugs that are unavailable on the NHS.

Benefits, risks and side effects of treatment

Statistics can help you understand the benefits and risks of cancer treatments to help make decisions about treatment.

Making your decision

If  you’re struggling to come to a decision about treatment, try following these five steps.

Understanding your rights as an older person

Your age should not affect your standard of treatment and care. Know your rights as an older person living with cancer.

About alternative therapies

Be wary of alternative therapies that claim to cure cancer or slow its growth.