Lung Cancer - Treatment
Treatment of lung cancer depends on the type of cancer, its location, and its stage of development. The patient's age, general health, and medical history are also taken into account. The three most common forms of treatment are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Some types of lung cancer cannot be treated surgically. For example, surgery is not an option if the cancer has already metastasized. The type of surgery performed depends on how far the cancer has spread. If it is still limited to one area of the lung, only that area is removed. In many cases, however, the cancer has already spread to other parts of the lung. The next most aggressive step is to remove one lobe of the lung. The right lung has three lobes, and the left lung has two. The lungs can continue to function if one lobe is removed. The most drastic surgery involves the removal of the whole lung, followed by a lung transplantation. This procedure is used only when cancer has spread throughout the entire lung.
Radiation is also used to treat lung cancer. Radiation involves the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. In most cases, the radiation comes from radioactive materials. Radioactive materials are substances that give off high-energy radiation, similar to X rays. The radiation can be given either externally or internally. If it is given externally, the radioactive source is placed above the patient's body in the area of the cancer. Radiation from the source penetrates the body and destroys cancer cells. Radiation can also be given internally by implanting the source directly in the patient's body.
Radiation can also be used prior to surgery. In this case, the purpose of the radiation treatment is to shrink the tumor. Radiation may also be given following surgery. The purpose in this case is to destroy any cancer cells that may remain after the surgery.
Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals that kill cancer cells. These chemicals can be given either orally (by mouth) or intravenously (into the bloodstream). Chemotherapy is often used when cancer has spread beyond the lungs. The chemicals spread throughout the patient's body and attack cancer cells wherever they occur. As with radiation, chemotherapy may be given either before or after surgery.
Both radiation and chemotherapy have a number of unpleasant side effects. Radiation may cause tiredness, skin rashes, upset stomach, diarrhea, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and loss of hair. Chemotherapy also causes nausea, vomiting, hair loss, anemia (general weakness due to low blood count; see anemias entry), and weakening of the immune system.
Many alternative treatments are available that may prove helpful in combating the side effects of traditional cancer therapies. These alternatives, however, should not replace prescribed cancer treatments; rather, they are suggested to work in conjunction with conventional treatment.
Body work therapy such as acupuncture (Chinese therapy involving the use of fine needles), acupressure (Chinese therapy that involves applying pressure to certain points in the body), reflexology, and massage may help calm the patient and reduce stress. Relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation may relieve nausea and discomfort. An exercise program, designed in consultation with a physician, may help promote better breathing and stronger chest muscles. A well-balanced diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and low in fats, sugar, and alcohol is suggested for overall well-being.