Treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is usually radiation therapy, especially if the cancer is at an early stage. This involves aiming concentrated radiation at cancer cells to damage their DNA, which can kill the cancer cells or prevent them from growing.
If the cancer has progressed to a later stage, radiation therapy may help prolong a person’s life.
A person should always discuss with a doctor the effect of potentially aggressive treatment on their quality of life.
Doctors and scientists have developed many treatment options for NSCLC. Research into new types of treatment is ongoing.
This article discusses radiation therapy as a common form of NSCLC treatment, including its types and effectiveness. We also provide tips for coping with radiation therapy side effects.
Lung cancer occurs when these cells divide and grow in the lungs. In the later stages of lung cancer, however, the cancerous cells spread around the body. People with untreated lung cancer eventually develop tumors in other organs, such as the brain, liver, or kidneys.
Radiation therapy works by
Internal vs. external
External radiation therapy is when doctors use a machine to direct radiation into a person’s body from the outside. It works similarly to an X-ray, although it uses much higher doses of radiation.
Internal radiation therapy is when doctors place a source of radiation directly into a person’s body.
Stereotactic body radiation therapy
Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), also known as stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, is a form of external radiation therapy. Doctors use SBRT when a person’s health prevents them from undergoing surgery.
This radiation is harmful to healthy cells, too, so doctors need to precisely aim the radiation. An individual who receives SBRT must enter a special body frame for each session. It limits their movements, which makes it less likely that the radiation accidentally damages healthy cells.
3D conformal radiation therapy
3D conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT) is a sophisticated form of external radiation therapy.
With 3D-CRT, doctors can use computers to create a precise map of a tumor’s location. They then use this map to point several radiation beams at the cancer while controlling the shapes of the beams.
The beams are coming from different locations, so it is
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a different form of external 3D radiation therapy.
As with 3D-CRT, doctors can use IMRT to control the shape and direction of the radiation beams. However, with IMRT, doctors
There is also a version of IMRT called volumetricmodulated arc therapy (VMAT). VMAT allows doctors to deliver radiation doses very quickly, which makes for a faster treatment.
One common version of SRS uses a machine to aim around
SRS can take several minutes to several hours. Unlike other forms of external radiation therapy, doctors only recommend one session of SRS per SRS therapy.
Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation therapy. Doctors use it to shrink the tumors in a person’s airways. This can help relieve the symptoms of NSCLC.
With brachytherapy, a doctor places a small quantity of solid radioactive material near a person’s tumor. Doctors can do so with surgery, although they
With a bronchoscope, doctors can look into a person’s airways using a tiny camera and deposit the radioactive material where needed.
After leaving the radioactive material in the body for some time, doctors often remove it. In some cases, doctors use a weaker radioactive source, which can stay in the body indefinitely.
Many doctors recommend some form of radiation therapy to treat NSCLC. However, the success rate of radiation therapies can depend on the stage of a person’s cancer.
For example, radiation therapy is
Nonetheless, there is evidence that radiation therapy can effectively treat NSCLC. A
A person should consider the different treatment options and their pros and cons with a doctor.
Like many cancer treatments, radiation therapy can have side effects. To manage side effects, a person may wish to consider the following techniques:
- creating a plan with a good rest-to-activity ratio
- eating a balanced diet
- meeting with a mental health professional to address the emotional effects of cancer treatment
Nausea and vomiting
- using antiemetic medication
- drinking plenty of fluids
- avoiding foods that increase feelings of nausea
The NCI especially recommends following these steps on treatment days.
- using only mild skin products
- moisturizing the skin
- protecting the skin from the sun
Radiation therapy can cause hair loss on the part of the body that receives radiation.
To address hair loss, the
- treating the hair gently
- using a mild shampoo
- protecting the scalp from the sun
Doctors have developed many sophisticated types of radiation therapy for NSCLC, including stereotactic body radiation therapy, 3D conformal radiation therapy, and intensity-modulated radiation therapy.
The success rate of these radiation therapies depends on the stage of cancer. For example, radiation therapy may not be particularly useful for early stage NSCLC. Doctors tend to only recommend it at this stage if surgery isn’t possible.
For other people, radiation therapy can improve the length and quality of life and may even cure some cases of NSCLC.
Side effects of radiation therapy include nausea and vomiting, skin problems, and fatigue. However, a person can reduce the severity of these side effects in several ways. A person with NSCLC can talk with their doctor about ways to manage any side effects.