Chemotherapy involves drugs that prevent or slow the growth of cancer cells. It is the main treatment for small cell lung cancer (SCLC). For non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), doctors may recommend chemotherapy in certain situations.
Lung cancer is a disease in which cells in the lungs divide and grow in an uncontrolled manner. These growths can occur in several parts of the lungs and stop them from working properly.
Treatment for lung cancer depends on the type and stage of the disease. SCLC and NSCLC are the
Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment — it travels through the whole body and can affect cancer cells that have spread far from the original tumor. A person may undergo chemotherapy alongside other treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy.
Keep reading to learn how chemotherapy works, its common side effects, and when doctors may recommend it for lung cancer.
In the United States, lung cancer is the
Chemotherapy can have different
SCLC makes up about
A person with SCLC may undergo chemotherapy:
- Along with radiation therapy: Doctors refer to this approach as chemoradiation and will use it if cancer has not spread beyond the lungs.
- Before radiation therapy: Doctors will use this approach if a person cannot have both treatments at the same time.
- Along with immunotherapy: Immunotherapy is another systemic treatment that works throughout the body. A doctor may recommend it in cases in which the cancer has spread.
- After surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy): This is rarely an option for SCLC, but when it is, a doctor may use chemotherapy after surgery to clear any cancer cells that remain in the lungs.
- For more advanced cases: Doctors may use chemotherapy alone in these cases to improve a person’s symptoms and make them feel more comfortable.
NSCLC is the more common type, making up 80% of lung cancer cases. This type tends to spread more slowly, and the treatment plan depends on the stage of the disease.
Some people with NSCLC may not undergo chemotherapy at all. Instead, they may undergo surgery to remove cancer cells in the lungs.
However, a person with NSCLC
- Before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy): This shrinks cancer cells to improve the effectiveness of the surgery.
- After surgery: This helps clear any cancer cells that may remain.
- Along with radiation therapy: Doctors may reserve this combination of treatments for cases in which the cancer has advanced to nearby structures, such as the lymph nodes, or for people who cannot tolerate surgery.
- For advanced cases: Doctors may use chemotherapy alone or alongside immunotherapy techniques when the cancer has spread to other body parts.
Cancer cells tend to go through cell cycles faster than typical cells and form new cells more rapidly. Through different mechanisms, depending on the drug, chemotherapy can interrupt this process and stop cancer cells from dividing and growing.
However, these drugs cannot differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells, so chemotherapy can damage some healthy cells. To lessen side effects, it is important to find the balance between damaging the cancer cells enough to manage or cure the disease and minimizing the damage to healthy cells.
Typically, the treatment for lung cancer depends on the type. For SCLC, chemotherapy involves a
- carboplatin and etoposide
- carboplatin and irinotecan
- cisplatin and etoposide
Chemotherapy for NSCLC will usually involve a combination of cisplatin or carboplatin with one of the following
People will typically receive chemotherapy for lung cancer through either an injection, which takes a few minutes, or an infusion, which can take up to a few hours.
Healthcare professionals may use a central venous catheter, such as a peripherally inserted central catheter, to administer the chemotherapy. The catheter stays in a person’s arm throughout treatment so healthcare professionals do not need to use a new needle for each session.
A person may receive chemotherapy:
- in a doctor’s office or clinic
- in an outpatient infusion center
- in a hospital
- at home
Typically, a doctor will recommend that a person receive chemotherapy in cycles, each one followed by a period of rest to allow the person to recover. Cycles are
However, the frequency of chemotherapy treatments may vary if a person is also receiving radiation treatment.
The number of cycles depends on the stage of a person’s cancer, as well as how they tolerate any side effects. For advanced SCLC cases,
Chemotherapy aims to interrupt the cell cycle of cancer cells to stop or manage the disease. However, it can also affect healthy cells in the body, leading to side effects.
Common side effects
- hair loss
- loss of appetite
- mouth sores
- higher chance of infection
- easier bruising or bleeding
- memory and concentration problems
Along with physical side effects, a person may find the process
Research suggests that
The success rates depend on many factors, such as a person’s overall health status. In some cases, if the person is reasonably healthy, chemoradiation
Learn more about survival rates for both types of lung cancer.
A doctor may recommend that a person with lung cancer undergo chemotherapy to prevent or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be beneficial in treating both SCLC and NSCLC.
The specific treatment course will likely depend on factors such as the type and stage of the disease, but treatment will usually consist of several cycles of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can cause some challenging side effects, and a person should not hesitate to reach out for support during their treatment.