Treatment for lung cancer?

On this page, we cover the different treatments that are available in the UK for lung cancer. We also explain target treatment times for the UK.

Your multidisciplinary team

You will be looked after by a team of healthcare professionals who specialise in diagnosing and treating lung cancer. This is called a multidisciplinary team. The doctor or nurse you see at your first appointment is part of the team.  

Another important member of the team is your lung cancer clinical nurse specialist. They are there to support you through your diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up. You can contact them between your hospital visits.

The team also includes:  

  • cancer specialists, known as oncologists 
  • radiology specialists, known as radiologists 
  • diagnosis specialists, known as pathologists
  • surgeons.

Your team will meet to review all of your tests results at a multidisciplinary team meeting. They will decide what treatment options are best for you based on your test results.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are research studies that aim to find out how well new medicines work in people with different conditions.

There are ongoing trials available for lung cancer patients. Ask your healthcare professional team if they know of any trials you can join. You can also find out more about clinical trials on the NHS website.

Surgery for lung cancer

Your healthcare professional may decide you need surgery if you have early-stage non-small-cell lung cancer. Surgery is not usually used to treat small-cell lung cancer. There are three types of surgery available:

  • A lobectomy: removing one or more parts (lobes) of the lung. 
  • A pneumonectomy: removing an entire lung. 
  • Wedge resection: removing small pieces of the lung.

You may feel concerned about this kind of surgery. However, it is still possible to breathe normally with one lung or part of a lung removed. You may still have some breathlessness after the surgery, but this is normal.

Help to stop smoking

Researchers believe that quitting smoking after a lung cancer diagnosis can improve your chance of survival.  

If you have had surgery for lung cancer, smoking increases the risk of lung problems after lung cancer surgery.

If you smoke, stopping smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your lung health. Read our information on how to quit smoking.

Medications

Targeted therapies

Targeted drugs such as erlotinib, gefitinib and crizotinib can be used to stop cancer cells from growing.

A drug called Nintedanib can also be used to treat a type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma. This may be given if the cancer comes back or has spread. It is usually given alongside chemotherapy.

Immunotherapies

Immunotherapy drugs help the immune system to fight cancer cells. An example is pembrolizumab, which can be used on its own or with chemotherapy.  

You will be given immunotherapy drugs directly into your vein through a drip. You can take this for up to two years if it’s controlling the cancer.  

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a group of different medicines used to kill and treat cancer cells. It’s usually given directly into a vein through a drip. It is sometimes given as a tablet to swallow.  

Chemotherapy can be given:  

  • before surgery to shrink the cancer
  • after surgery to stop it from returning 
  • with radiotherapy 
  • to relieve symptoms and slow the spread of cancer.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells. It may be used in the early stages of cancer, or if the cancer has started to spread.

It can be used to try and cure the cancer completely, or it can be used to relieve symptoms if the cancer cannot be cured.

Palliative care

Palliative care is treatment to help reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. This includes controlling pain and symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, and breathlessness.  

Palliative care is there to provide support at all stages of cancer. There’s evidence to show that, in some cases, early palliative care can lead to significant improvements in your quality of life and mood.

When your treatment ends, you should have a follow-up appointment within six weeks to discuss your ongoing care. Your cancer nurse specialist will be an important contact during and following your treatment. Your GP can tell you if there are any community-based cancer nurse specialists in your area.

Treatment waiting time targets

In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, your cancer treatment should be started within 62 days of referral for suspected cancer. There should also be no more than 31 days between agreeing a treatment plan and starting treatment.    

In Wales, you should have a referral, diagnosis, and treatment within 62 days of suspected cancer.  

In some cases, it can take longer to get a diagnosis and start treatment. Waiting for tests and results can be frustrating and you may worry about getting worse during this time. However, most cancers grow slowly so waiting a few weeks shouldn’t affect how your treatment works.  

How genetic targeted therapy for lung cancer transformed my mother’s life. Read Philomeena’s story.

End of life care

Sometimes lung cancer can’t be cured. End of life care is there to make you as comfortable as possible.

This includes palliative care to control pain and other symptoms. It also aims to support you, your family, and carers emotionally, spiritually, and practically before and after death.

Talk to your doctor or nurse about your local services. Find out more about end of life care.

Get support

Call or WhatsApp our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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