How treatment is planned

Small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer are treated in different ways.

You will see a specialist at the hospital who will arrange any tests you may need. Once the diagnosis of lung cancer is confirmed your treatment will be planned and given by a team of specialists. This is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Your MDT will include a:

  • surgeon who specialises in lung cancers (thoracic surgeon)
  • medical oncologist (chemotherapy specialist)
  • clinical oncologist (radiotherapy and chemotherapy specialist)
  • nurse specialist
  • radiologist who helps to analyse x-rays and scans
  • pathologist who advises on the type and extent of the cancer.

The team may include other healthcare professionals. The MDT will take into account the stage of the cancer and other factors such as your general health when advising you on treatment options.

You may be asked to make a decision about your treatment. A treatment can’t be given without your consent. Make sure you understand all the information you are given before you make a decision and ask your doctor or nurse if you have any questions.

At the hospital

The specialist will ask you about your general health and any previous medical problems before examining you. If you haven’t already had one, a chest x-ray will be taken to check for any abnormalities in your lungs.

A number of tests may be used to diagnose lung cancer. Your doctor may arrange for you to have one or more of them.


Multidisciplinary team (MDT) for lung cancer

In most hospitals, a team of specialists will talk to you about the treatment they feel is best for your situation. This multidisciplinary team (MDT) will include a:

  • surgeon who specialises in lung cancers (thoracic surgeon)
  • medical oncologist (chemotherapy specialist)
  • clinical oncologist (radiotherapy and chemotherapy specialist)
  • nurse specialist
  • radiologist who helps to analyse x-rays and scans
  • pathologist who advises on the type and extent of the cancer.

It may also include other healthcare professionals, such as a palliative care doctor or nurse who specialises in symptom control, dietitian, physiotherapist, occupational therapist (OT), psychologist or counsellor.

The MDT will take a number of factors into account when advising you on the best course of action, including your general health, the type and size of the tumour, and whether it has begun to spread.

If you smoke and have a lung cancer diagnosis, your doctor may advise you to try to stop smoking. Giving up smoking can have a positive effect on your treatment. Your GP should be able to offer different treatments to help you quit. Whether or not you stop should not affect the treatment plan your team offer you.

If two treatments are equally effective for your type and stage of cancer, your doctors may offer you a choice of treatments. Sometimes people find it hard to make a decision.

If you’re asked to make a decision, make sure that you have enough information about the different options, what they involve and the possible side effects. This is so you can decide on the right treatment for you.

Remember to ask questions about any aspects you don’t understand or that you feel worried about. It may help to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of each option with your cancer specialist, nurse specialist or with our cancer support specialists.

If you have any questions about your own treatment, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse. It often helps to make a list of questions and to take a relative or close friend with you.


Giving your consent

Before you have any treatment, your doctor will explain its aims. They will usually ask you to sign a form saying that you give permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment.

No medical treatment can be given without your consent, and before you are asked to sign the form you should be given full information about:

  • the type and extent of the treatment
  • its advantages and disadvantages
  • any significant risks or side effects
  • any other treatments that may be available.

If you don't understand what you've been told, let the staff know straight away, so they can explain again. Some cancer treatments are complex, so it's not unusual to need repeated explanations.

It's a good idea to have a relative or friend with you when the treatment is explained, to help you remember the discussion. You may also find it useful to write a list of questions before your appointment.

People sometimes feel that hospital staff are too busy to answer their questions, but it's important for you to know how the treatment is likely to affect you. The staff should be willing to make time for your questions.

You can always ask for more time if you feel that you can't make a decision when your treatment is first explained to you.

You are also free to choose not to have the treatment. The staff can explain what may happen if you don't have it. It’s essential to tell a doctor or the nurse in charge, so they can record your decision in your medical notes. You don't have to give a reason for not wanting treatment, but it can help to let the staff know your concerns so they can give you the best advice.


Back to Who will be involved in your treatment decision?

Talking to your healthcare team

Talking to your healthcare team can make it easier to cope. If you find talking difficult, there are things you can do.

Getting a second opinion

There are many reasons for wanting a second opinion about your treatment. Speak to your specialist or GP.

Making a complaint

Sometimes mistakes can be made and this can be very upsetting. If you’re thinking about making a complaint, it can help to know what’s involved.