Chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs that can treat lung cancer include cisplatin and atezolizumab (Tecentriq). For non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) doctors also use targeted therapy, such as bevacizumab (Avastin).

NSCLC and small cell lung cancer (SCLC) are different types of lung cancer. NSCLC develops in larger, more developed lung cells. Doctors use medications to treat both types.

A wider range of chemotherapy and immunotherapy drug options are available for NSCLC, as well as targeted therapy.

SCLC has different chemotherapy drugs and fewer immunotherapy options. Targeted drugs are not yet available.

This article provides an overview of lung cancer medications, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy for both NSCLC and SCLC.

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Lung cancer treatment aims to remove cancer or slow its progress. Doctors can do this by removing, destroying, or damaging as many cancer cells as possible.

Lung cancer treatments that can do this include:

Chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy are all pharmaceutical treatments. However, they work very differently.

  • Chemotherapy drugs travel throughout the body until they find and kill cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy drugs prompt the immune system to find and kill these cells more effectively.
  • Targeted therapy drugs inhibit the growth and division of cancer cells.

Learn about the stages of lung cancer.

The main medications for NSCLC are chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Chemotherapy drugs

Chemotherapy is the main treatment for more advanced NSCLCs. It can also supplement surgery, radiation therapy, or both.

Chemotherapy drugs for NSCLC include:

  • cisplatin
  • carboplatin
  • paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • docetaxel (Taxotere)
  • vinorelbine (Navelbine)

Learn more about chemotherapy for NSCLC.

Immunotherapy drugs

Doctors can use immunotherapy drugs to treat NSCLC at various stages. Doctors may also recommend using this type of medication alongside other treatments, including chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy drugs for NSCLC include:

Learn more about immunotherapy for NSCLC.

Targeted therapy drugs

Doctors most commonly recommend targeted therapy drugs for more advanced NSCLCs. They can use these alongside chemotherapy, although targeted therapy drugs can also work when chemotherapy fails.

Targeted therapy drugs for NSCLC include:

Learn more about targeted therapy for NSCLC.

SCLC begins in smaller, underdeveloped lung cells. Although scientists have developed medications for this condition, these are fewer in number than medications for NSCLC.

Chemotherapy drugs

In the early stages of SCLC, doctors may recommend chemotherapy alongside radiation therapy. At a later stage, they may suggest immunotherapy.

Chemotherapy drugs for SCLC include:

  • cisplatin
  • carboplatin
  • etoposide
  • topotecan
  • lurbinectedin (Zepzelca)

Learn more about chemotherapy for SCLC.

Immunotherapy drugs

Doctors can use immunotherapy drugs when treating more advanced SCLCs, alongside chemotherapy. Only two immunotherapy drugs are currently available for treating SCLC.

These are:

Learn more about immunotherapy for SCLC.

Targeted therapy drugs

There are no effective and approved targeted therapy drugs for SCLC.

A 2020 study explains this absence. Scientists are still trying to determine which genes and cell features contribute the most to SCLC. They have also found it difficult to develop ways of targeting these features.

Research into targeted therapy drugs for SCLC is ongoing. Although there have been some encouraging results, effective treatments are not yet available.

Here are some commonly asked questions about lung cancer treatments. They have been reviewed by Alyssa Walton, PharmD.

What is the new pill for lung cancer?

There are many studies currently taking place to improve treatment options for people with lung cancer. Examples of newer medications for lung cancer include mobecertinib and capmatinib.

How do doctors determine the best drug for lung cancer?

Doctors will compare the efficacy of different medications and weigh these against their possible side effects. Doctors will also take into account factors such as a person’s overall health, lifestyle, age, and personal preferences.

Learn about the success rates for chemotherapy for different types of cancers.

Various drugs can treat the two main forms of lung cancer, NSCLC and SCLC. These medications aim to eliminate cancer or at least slow its development.

Options for NSCLC include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. Options for SCLC are currently chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Scientists are still researching targeted therapy drugs for SCLC.