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How is NSCLC treated?

NSCLC treatment

Following a diagnosis of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), it may be difficult to both process the news and plan for your treatment. While it’s challenging to come to terms with this life-changing news, with NSCLC treatment it’s imperative that you work quickly with your care team to determine the best plan for you and your specific cancer diagnosis.

Approaches to NSCLC Treatment:

  • Surgery: There are various lung cancer surgeries, but the most common is a lobectomy; with this surgery, the lobe affected by the cancer is removed. When possible, surgery to remove all or as much as possible of the tumor is usually the preferred treatment.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation uses powerful X-rays to kill or shrink cancer cells and keep them from growing. Radiation may be used prior to surgery to shrink the tumor or immediately following surgery to ensure there are no remaining tumor cells. It may be used to treat metastases, such as those to the brain or bone.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the term for anti-cancer drugs that are given to patients either via IV or orally. You can receive neoadjuvant (before surgery) or adjuvant (after surgery) chemo. Neoadjuvant chemo can be used to shrink a tumor before surgery. Adjuvant chemo may be used to ensure all cancer cells are eradicated and can no longer spread.
  • Targeted therapy: This refers to NSCLC treatment that aims to target the specific cancer cells, and not the healthy ones. In lung cancer, you might hear about gene mutations  such as EGFR or KRAS; these are examples of mutations where specific targeted therapies are available. Talk to your doctor about what’s referred to as “biomarker testing,” which can help them determine if any targeted therapies are relevant for you. 
  • Immunotherapy: With immunotherapy, instead of leveraging the cancer’s genetic profile to combat your cancer–which is the case with targeted therapies–it relies upon your own immune system to “recognize and destroy cancer cells.” Your doctor may need to conduct tests to determine if your cancer cells possess certain proteins that immunotherapies are developed to target.

Your cancer stage will determine the type of NSCLC treatment you’ll receive–but your oncologist will also consider your general health as well as your preferences related to your personal wishes and quality-of-life. 

According to Wolters Kluwer, this is what NSCLC treatments patients can anticipate based upon their cancer stage:

  • Stage I and Stage II: Surgery (as long as your health can tolerate surgery) may be followed by radiation and chemotherapy. Your doctor may also consider targeted therapies and immunotherapy, depending upon your individual case.
  • Stage III: Chemotherapy and radiation, followed by surgery is a typical treatment path; however, it’s important to connect with your oncologist to discuss if targeted or immunotherapy is also appropriate.
  • Stage IV: Treatment of stage IV NSCLC will depend upon where the cancer has spread. Stage IV NSCLC is not curable, but treatment options continue to evolve and it’s important to discuss genetic and biomarker testing with your oncologist to ensure you’re both aware of all relevant options. 

Remember that you are in control of your NSCLC treatment decisions. Consider what is important to you, and how treatment–and related side effects–may influence how you live your life and what you cherish. 

If you have questions about your options, you can connect with an Outcomes4Me oncology nurse practitioner at no charge through the Outcomes4Me app, using the “Ask Outcomes4Me” button.

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