Summary of Treatment Paths For Lung Cancer
When lung cancer (LC) develops, it is critical to diagnose it while the disease is still in its early stages. As it progresses from Stage I to Stage IV, the available treatment options become limited. What’s more, the chances of treating it successfully diminish. In Stage I, the cancerous cells are still localized to the original site. During Stages II and III, they have begun to spread to other areas of the chest. By Stage IV, the disease has spread to other sites throughout the body.
In this article, we’ll describe the three main forms of treatment: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Sometimes, one path is sufficient for removing the diseased tissue. Other times, all three paths are chosen to help prevent a recurrence of cancerous cells.
If the cancerous cells are still localized, the diseased tissue can be surgically removed. In the event that the disease has spread to other areas of the lung, surgery is still an option. However, because it has spread, removing the affected tissue may not cure the affliction. It can recur. This is a case in which in doctors will often recommend a multi-pronged approach involving chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both.
In the past, surgery was performed by opening the chest, cutting through the sternum, and spreading the ribs to gain access to the site. Today, minimally invasive techniques using computer-controlled robotic arms can perform the procedure with more precision and less trauma.
Because many cases of LC are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other areas of the patient’s body, chemotherapy is a common treatment path. It is estimated that 50% of those diagnosed with the disease die within four months if they do not receive chemotherapeutic drugs. The drugs can be taken in pill format or injected directly into the patient’s bloodstream.
The purpose of these medications is to systemically kill cancerous cells. The drawback is that they are not discriminatory; these medications will kill both normal and abnormal cells, triggering a host of side effects. Vomiting, blood clots, hair loss, and diarrhea are common, though they disappear once treatment ends.
Radiation therapy is used for the same purpose as chemotherapeutic drugs. In this case, high-energy beams are used to kill the cancerous cells. If a tumor is localized, the radiation can be delivered externally by placing a machine next to the patient near the affected site. It can also be delivered internally by positioning a small contained device inside the patient’s body near the tumor.
The importance of diagnosing lung cancer in its early stages cannot be overstated. By the time the disease has metastasized throughout the body, it is almost impossible to treat it successfully. At that point, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used to control the symptoms. If lung cancer can be diagnosed early enough, surgery can still be performed to eliminate it.