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Weill Cornell Cancer Center

Treatment

Lung cancer may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy, depending on the tumor’s stage, biology, and location with regard to vital structures such as the heart or aorta.

Surgery

Weill Cornell Cancer Center surgeons have a great deal of experience performing lung cancer surgeries. Studies have shown that patients who receive cancer surgery at medical centers that perform a large number of procedures fare better than those operated on at less experienced centers.

Weill Cornell Cancer Center surgeons use minimally invasive approaches for about 60 percent of lung cancer surgeries (more for patients with early-stage disease), resulting in

  • smaller incisions
  • a shorter hospital stay
  • a quicker recovery time

Such minimally invasive surgery enables patients to get back to their normal activities sooner. For example, surgeons may use video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), which is performed through a one-inch incision, requires only a three-day hospital stay, and enables patients to achieve an 80-percent recovery within two weeks of the procedure. This is in contrast to the six-inch incision, four-day hospital stay, and slightly longer time to full recovery from post-surgical discomfort associated with conventional open surgical approaches.

Our surgeons are experienced in both approaches to meet the needs of each individual patient in the most effective way possible.

Chemotherapy

Many patients with lung cancer are not candidates for surgery because the tumor may have invaded adjacent structures or spread to the nearby lymph nodes. Some of these patients may be able to undergo surgery after receiving chemotherapy. Patients may also receive radiation before surgery. This approach shrinks the tumor and allows the surgeon to remove it with clean margins.

Patients with more advanced cancer may receive chemotherapy and radiation therapy alone or chemotherapy alone (without surgery). Drugs commonly used to treat lung cancer include

  • cisplatin
  • paclitaxel
  • carboplatin
  • vinorelbine
  • gemcitabine.

Newer medications, which often target particular signaling pathways involved in lung cancer growth, include erlotinib, bevacizumab, and pemetrexed.

Medical oncologists at the Weill Cornell Cancer Center are evaluating new therapies for advanced stage lung cancer and trying to increase the cure rate of early-stage disease.

  • Clinical trials are under way to assess the effectiveness of COX2 inhibitors (such as apricoxib) for treating non-small cell lung cancer and anti-angiogenic agents such as sunitinib (which inhibits the growth of blood vessels tumors need to grow and spread) in small cell and non-small cell lung cancers.
  • Cutting-edge radioimmunotherapy which targets the tumor’s blood vessels is also under investigation.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy can be used to kill lung cancer cells. It can be delivered via conventional external beam radiation therapy, three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (in which the radiation beams are shaped to the contours of the tumor), or intensity-modulated radiation therapy (a type of 3-D radiation therapy that targets tumors with radiation of various intensities from different angles, sparing healthy tissue from the damaging effects of radiation).

Radiation oncologists are evaluating newer methods of delivering radiation that take into account the fact that the lungs move as the patient breathes during treatment. They use a technique called "gating" to evaluate the degree to which a tumor moves while the patient breathes, and this motion may be accounted for when planning treatment.

More about radiation therapy for lung cancer.

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