Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer. It is generally associated with people who have a past or current history of smoking, but some forms of lung cancer commonly affect non-smokers. Although lung cancer is difficult to treat, it is no longer an automatic death sentence.
Different Cancers, Different Pathways
Each person's unique situation will dictate treatment, but the type of lung cancer you have will also affect your treatment options. Lung cancer is generally diagnosed as one of two types: non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). NSCLC is the most common type and most treatment options are applicable to this form of lung cancer. Generally, SCLC has fewer treatment options. If you have been diagnosed with NSCLC, your doctor will most likely recommend surgery once they are sure of the staging and any other factors that might exclude you from surgery.
There are several types of surgery for NSCLC, which include removal of parts of the lung, or the removal of an entire lung. Based on the results of surgery, you will likely start chemotherapy and/or radiation at alung cancer center. For SCLC, patients generally begin with chemotherapy and radiation. In rare situations, patients with SCLC may have surgery if the tumor is highly localized and there is no indication of metastasis.
Prophylactic Treatment In SCLC
SCLC can present unique challenges. One of these challenges is the high likelihood of metastasis to the brain. Some doctors choose to use prophylactic treatments in their SCLC patients to destroy any cancer cells in the brain before they have a chance to grow. Even if a patient is on chemotherapy for treatment of their SCLC, most forms of chemotherapy are unable to pass through the blood-brain barrier, thereby having no effect on cancer cells that have already reached the brain. Cranial irradiation is the type of radiation therapy that is specifically used in the instance of prophylactic treatment of brain metastasis.
In the case of NSCLC, the additional treatment options available include medications that help doctors better tailor a treatment plan to the patient. These medications are considered targeted therapies because they each have a specific indication for use. For example, some medications are approved to treat people with NSCLC if they have specific markers or genetic mutations associated with their lung cancer. Targeted therapies are used for NSCLC with an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), or anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene mutation.
With various treatment approaches for lung cancer and advancements in research, many people are not only surviving but living after their diagnosis.