Lung cancer treatment

Making decisions about treatment

If you are given a choice of treatment, including no treatment for now, you will need to think about your options.

You may want to ask your doctor questions, such as:

  • What is the goal of the treatment?
  • Can I expect to live longer if I have treatment?
  • If I have treatment, is there a risk that my quality of life could be affected by the treatment?
  • Are there other treatments for me?
  • What is the chance of the treatment working?

"At first I wondered if ignorance was bliss, but after a week I thought "No". It's my body and I want to know what is going to happen, and I want to know if I make a decision what will happen." Silei

For more information on this subject you can read the Cancer Society's information sheet titled "Making decisions about your cancer treatment". You can receive a copy by phoning the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237), or contacting your local Cancer Society office. You can read or print a copy of this information sheet from the Society's website.

Treatment options

There is a variety of lung cancer treatments. Your treatment options will depend on your type of cancer and its stage, your general health, how well you can breathe and your personal wishes.

Early stage non-small cell lung cancer is usually best treated with surgery if possible, otherwise a combination of radiation treatment and chemotherapy is recommended most of the time.

Small cell lung cancer that hasn't spread to other parts of the body is usually treated with chemotherapy in combination with radiation treatment to the primary lung tumour. Treatment will often involve radiation treatment to the brain as well, as a preventative treatment (known as prophylactic cranial irradiation—PCI). Surgery is not often used for this type of cancer because it has usually spread by the time you are diagnosed.

Research shows that if you quit smoking your treatment is more effective. If you smoke, your medical team will advise you to stop smoking before you have any treatment.

Key points: Lung cancer treatment

You may be offered these, or a combination of these treatments:

  • Surgery to remove a cancer gives the best chance of a cure for most people with early-stage lung cancer.
  • Radiation treats cancer by killing cancer cells. It can effectively treat lung cancer that has not spread outside the chest. It is often used in combination with chemotherapy. It can also be used to treat symptoms such as pain if your lung cancer has spread to other parts of your body such as the bones.
  • Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with anticancer (cytotoxic) medicine. It may be used on its own or in combination with surgery, radiation or targeted therapies.
  • Targeted therapy is a new form of cancer treatment also known as biological therapy. Each targeted therapy works by interfering with how cancer cells grow, multiply, repair and/or communicate with other cancer cells. Targeted therapy is available for a small number of types of lung cancer.
  • Complementary therapies are used alongside hospital treatments. They may help you feel better and cope better with hospital treatments.
  • Traditional healing includes rongoā, Pacific medicine, Ayurveda and Chinese medicine. Talk to your doctor if you wish to use them with your other treatments.
  • You could ask if there is a clinical trial for your particular kind of cancer. Your doctor may suggest that you consider taking part in a clinical trial.
  • Palliative and supportive care is treatment that helps improve quality of life throughout your lung cancer experience when you're unlikely to be cured. Your GP, hospital doctor or nurse can refer you to a palliative care service. The palliative care specialist team plans your care with you and talks with your GP and Multidisciplinary Care Team.