Lung cancer can be managed with surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, either alone or in combination, depending on how advanced the tumour has developed. Which treatment or combination of treatment that is best will depend on the type of lung cancer, how advanced the cancer is (i.e., the stage of the cancer), overall health, side effects, and the potential for curing the cancer, relieving symptoms, or prolonging life.
Surgery can only be done if the cancerous tumour is small and localized to one lung, and if the remaining lung is strong enough to work on its own. The surgery is called a pneumonectomy if the whole lung is removed, or a lobectomy if only part of the lung is removed. The doctor decides how much of the lung to remove during the surgery. Although 10% to 35% of lung cancers can be surgically removed, surgery doesn't always cure the cancer. Surgery is only recommended for people in good enough health with no sign of metastatic spread of the tumour. If a person has a serious heart or other lung condition, surgery may not be an option.
Radiation is used for lung cancer that has spread or is too close to the windpipe. For people with serious disease, radiation is used to keep the cancer from growing, rather than to destroy it entirely. Radiation can control bone pain, superior vena cava syndrome and compression of the nerves to the backbone (spinal cord) caused by cancerous cell growth.
Chemotherapy, which is treatment with anticancer medications, may be used to prolong life in metastatic (spread to other areas of the body) lung cancer or in combination with radiation to control lung cancer that is still contained within the chest.
The highest chance for a cure is in those people where the lung cancer was found and surgically removed or treated in its early stages. The estimated 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is 17%. However, if the cancer has spread outside of the chest, it's not usually curable.
It's important for people who have had lung cancer to have regular checkups. Some people who have had lung cancer surgically removed will get it again. The figure is even higher for those who keep smoking after the surgery. Prevention of lung cancer is possible; deciding to quit smoking is the first big step. There are many helpful techniques and treatments for smoking cessation; see our article on this topic.
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