Treatment overview

Treatment for lung cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and targeted therapies. The treatment you have will depend on the stage and type of cancer. You may have a combination of treatments.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell cancer (SCLC) are treated in different ways.

Surgery

Surgery may be possible to remove NSCLC. Surgery is rarely used to treat SCLC.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs) is used in both types of lung cancer. If you have SCLC, chemotherapy is usually your main treatment. Chemotherapy can be given before or after surgery for NSCLC. Some people have chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy. This is called chemoradiation. Chemotherapy can also be used to control symptoms.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy x-rays.

For NSCLC, you can have it instead of surgery to try to cure an early cancer. It can be given after chemotherapy and sometimes along with it (chemoradiation) in both NSCLC and SCLC. Radiotherapy is also used to control symptoms when the cancer is more advanced or has spread to other parts of the body.

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies use drugs to stop the signals that encourage cancer cells to grow. They are usually used to treat advanced NSCLC.

Ablation treatments

Ablation treatments that use heat (radiofrequency ablation) or laser light (photodynamic therapy) are sometimes used to treat very early stage lung cancers.

Other tumour ablation treatments, such as laser, can be used to relieve breathlessness if the cancer is blocking an airway.

Your doctor and specialist nurse will involve you in treatment decisions so that your preferences are taken into account.

They can also help you if you need to make decisions about treatment. Some people may have different treatments one after the other to keep the cancer under control. Newer treatments are also being developed. Your cancer doctor may talk to you about taking part in research, such as a clinical trial.

If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, you can have treatments and drugs that can reduce your symptoms. This is sometimes called supportive care (palliative care). You can see a specialist doctor or nurse for expert help with your symptoms.

Back to Understanding your diagnosis

Just been diagnosed?

Just been diagnosed with cancer? We're here for you every step of the way. There are many ways we can help.

Staging lung cancer

The stage of a cancer describes how large it is and whether it has spread. Knowing the stage helps doctors plan the best treatment for you.

My Cancer Treatment

Macmillan is supporting a new online tool to help you make decisions about your treatment and care. The tool currently only covers England.