Treatment for lung cancer

Treatments for lung cancer include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy, tumour ablation and symptom control.

About lung cancer treatment

Treatment for lung cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and other targeted therapy drugs. You may have a combination of lung cancer treatments. Some people have a number of different treatments in a row, to keep the cancer under control.

The lung cancer treatment you have will depend on:

Your doctor and specialist nurse will involve you in treatment decisions, so you can talk about your treatment options and preferences. They can also help you if you need to make decisions about lung cancer treatment.

We understand that having treatment can be a difficult time for people. We're here to support you. If you want to talk, you can:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is used to treat both types of lung cancer:
  • For small cell lung cancer (SCLC), chemotherapy is usually the main treatment.
  • For non-small cell cancer (NSCLC), people usually have chemotherapy before or after surgery.

For both types of lung cancer, people sometimes have chemotherapy with radiotherapy. This is called chemoradiation.

Chemotherapy can also be used to control symptoms when lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Clinical trials

Your cancer doctor may talk to you about taking part in research, such as a clinical trial.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy drugs are usually used to treat advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Immunotherapy drugs help stimulate your immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells.

Your doctor does tests on the cancer cells to find out if some of these drugs are suitable treatment options for you.

We have more information about immunotherapy for lung cancer.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy x-rays. It can be used to treat both types of lung cancer. It may be given:

  • on its own instead of surgery, to try to cure early-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
  • with or after chemotherapy (chemoradiation), for both NSCLC and small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
  • to the head, to stop any lung cancer cells that have spread from growing into a secondary cancer in the brain (for people with SCLC)
  • to control symptoms, if the cancer is more advanced or has spread to other parts of the body (palliative radiotherapy).

Supportive treatments

You can have treatments and drugs to help relieve symptoms. This is sometimes called supportive care (palliative care). You can see a specialist doctor or nurse for expert help with your symptoms.

We have more information about controlling symptoms of lung cancer.

Surgery

If you have non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), it may be possible to remove the cancer with surgery. The type of operation will depend on the size and position of the cancer. For some people, surgery may not be suitable. This might be because of other health problems that would make it unsafe or difficult to cope with a major operation.

Surgery is rarely used to treat small cell lung cancer (SCLC), unless the cancer is small and has not spread outside the lung. Other treatments are usually more suitable for SCLC, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy drugs are usually used to treat advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Targeted therapy drugs interfere with the way cancer cells signal or interact with each other. This stops them growing and dividing.

Your doctor does tests on the cancer cells to find out if some of these drugs are suitable treatment options for you.

We have more information about targeted therapy for lung cancer.

Tumour ablation treatments

Tumour ablation treatments destroy cancer cells using heat or laser light. This is sometimes used to treat very early-stage lung cancers.

We have more information about tumour ablation treatments.