Lung Cancer Drugs

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on October 2, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on October 2, 2014

Lung Cancer Treatment

There are several types of treatment for lung cancer. You and your doctor will determine which type is best for you based on what type and stage of lung cancer you have. Treatments may be used alone or in combination with other forms for a more aggressive approach.

Curative Surgery

A thoracic surgeon can remove tumors, surrounding lymph nodes, and tissue in the early stages of lung cancer. This is called wedge resection surgery. If the surrounding tissue is found to have cancer cells, more of the lung may need to be removed (segmental resection). If the cancer is extensive, a lobe of your lung may be removed (lobectomy), or an entire lung (pneumonectomy) may be removed. These procedures greatly increase the chance of survival in certain types of lung cancer.

Palliative Surgery

The location of a tumor might cause pain in a specific area or make breathing difficult. Palliative surgery is a form of pain management. Surgical removal of such a tumor can make you more comfortable.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is referred to as a systemic therapy. It uses drugs to slow or kill cancer cells throughout the whole body. The drugs can be taken orally in pill or liquid form, but are usually administered intravenously. The dosage and length of treatment varies. It can be prescribed as often as daily and for as long as years, depending on the type of lung cancer and your response to the treatment.   

Radiation

Radiation therapy uses a machine to focus high-energy or charged rays to reduce or kill cancer cells. Radiation can be focused to specific areas, decreasing the possibility of damaging healthy cells. The doses are administered over a period of weeks or months. This can be the main treatment for some patients, while others will receive it to kill cancer cells that may remain after surgery.

Targeted Drug Therapy

Targeted drug therapy is a newer treatment. It uses drugs that zero in on defects within the cell that make it cancerous.

Bevacizumab (Avastin)

Bevacizumab is a drug that disables tumor growth by preventing it from creating new blood supplies. Research has shown that bevacizumab can help people with advanced lung cancer when used in combination with chemotherapy. It’s approved for advanced and recurrent non-small cell lung cancer. Side effects include high blood pressure, blood clots, and bleeding.

Erlotinib (Tarceva)

Erlotinib blocks the chemicals that signal cancer cells to grow and divide. Erlotinib is used for patients with advanced and recurring non-small cell carcinoma who have not been helped by chemotherapy. Side effects can include:

  • stomach upset
  • weight loss
  • mouth sores
  • hair loss
  • depression

Gefitinib (Iressa)

Gefitinib is a pill used to treat non-small cell lung cancer when other chemotherapy fails. It’s classified as an antineoplastic and works by inhibiting a naturally occurring substance that might help cancer cells multiply. Side effects may include:

  • stomach upset
  • itching and dry skin
  • rashes
  • mouth sores
  • weight loss

Crizotinib (Xalkori)

Crizotinib is also used to treat non-small cell lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. It also works by blocking production elements that cancer cells need to multiply. Some of the side effects include stomach upset, sleep disturbances, changes in the taste of food, and headaches.

Supportive Care

Supportive care, or comfort care, is suggested when the prognosis is not promising and the chances for recovery are slight. Treatment is aimed at easing pain and discomfort, rather than stopping the cancer. Supportive care might include the help of a therapist or social worker to address emotions, along with pain and symptom management.

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