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Lung Cancer Treatment

At MD Anderson, some of the nation’s top lung cancer specialists focus their extraordinary expertise on you. We customize your treatment to deliver the most advanced, least invasive treatments available for lung cancer. And because your peace of mind is important to us, we specialize in techniques and therapies than can help preserve lung function.

MD Anderson offers the most advanced lung cancer treatments, many available at only a few locations in the United States. Your lung cancer therapy may include:

  • Proton therapy
  • Targeted therapies
  • Gene therapy and use of nanoparticles to deliver chemotherapy
  • Minimally invasive operations
  • Treatment for lung cancers that elsewhere might be considered inoperable
  • Special techniques for treating cancers that invade the spinal column

And we’re constantly researching newer, safer, more-effective lung cancer treatments – with fewer side effects. We are proud to be one of the few cancer centers in the nation to house a prestigious federally funded lung cancer SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) program. This translates to a wide variety of clinical trials for new treatments.

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including:

  • The stage and type of lung cancer
  • Other lung problems, such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis
  • Possible side effects of treatment
  • Your general health

Your treatment for lung cancer will be customized to your particular needs. It may include one or more of the following therapies to treat the cancer or help relieve symptoms.

Surgery 

Like all surgeries, lung cancer surgery is most successful when performed by a specialist with a great deal of experience in the particular procedure.

MD Anderson lung surgeons are among the most skilled and recognized in the world. They perform a large number of surgeries for lung cancer each year, using the least invasive and most effective techniques. 

Lung cancer may be treated with surgery alone or combined with other treatments. Chemotherapy or radiation may be given:

  • Before surgery to shrink tumors. This is called induction or neoadjuvant therapy.
  • After surgery to help destroy cancer cells that may remain in the body. This is called adjuvant therapy.
  • Surgery is used less often for small cell lung cancer because this type of cancer spreads more quickly through the body and is not often found in the early stages when it is confined to the lungs.

The most common types of surgery for lung cancer are:

  • Wedge resection: Removal of the tumor and a pie- or wedge-shaped piece of the lung around the tumor
  • Lobectomy: Removal of the lobe of the lung with cancer
  • Segmentectomy or segmental resection: Removal of a segment, or part, of the lobe where the cancer is located
  • Pneumonectomy: Removal of the entire lung
  • Sleeve resection: Removal of part of the bronchus

In addition, lymph nodes in the chest will be removed and looked at under a microscope to find out if the lung cancer has spread. This will help doctors decide if you need further treatment after surgery.

Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS): MD Anderson surgeons are specially trained and highly skilled at performing this minimally invasive surgery, and they use the latest equipment available.

Other types of surgery

Sometimes surgery is needed to help problems caused by lung cancer or its treatment. This may include:

  • Laser surgery to open a blocked airway
  • Placement of small tubes (stents) to keep airways open
  • Cryosurgery to freeze and destroy cancer tissue
  • Placement of a Pleurx-Denver catheter to drain fluid that may accumulate in the pleural cavity (the layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs)

Chemotherapy

MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and effective chemotherapy options for lung cancer. Chemotherapy is often the main treatment for small cell lung cancer or if the cancer has spread (metastasized). MD Anderson offers techniques to help make chemotherapy more effective, including delivery by nanoparticles. If surgery is not an option for you, your doctor may suggest chemotherapy and radiation.

Targeted Therapies

MD Anderson is among just a few cancer centers in the nation that are able to offer you targeted therapies for some types of lung cancer. These innovative new drugs stop the growth of cancer cells by interfering with certain proteins and receptors or blood vessels that supply the tumor with what it needs to grow.

Radiation Therapy

New radiation therapy techniques and remarkable skill allow MD Anderson doctors to target lung cancer more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells. Radiation therapy may be used with chemotherapy and/or surgery.

The Thoracic Center provides the very latest radiation treatments for lung cancer, including: 

  • Brachytherapy: Tiny radioactive seeds are placed in the body close to the tumor
  • 3D-conformal radiation therapy: Several radiation beams are given in the exact shape of the tumor
  • Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT): Treatment is tailored to the specific shape of the tumor

Proton Therapy

The Proton Therapy Center at MD Anderson is one of the world’s largest and most advanced centers. It’s the only proton therapy facility in the country located within a comprehensive cancer center. This means this cutting-edge therapy is backed by all the expertise and compassionate care for which MD Anderson is famous.

Proton therapy delivers high radiation doses directly into the tumor, sparing nearby healthy tissue and vital organs. For many patients, this results in better cancer control with fewer side effects.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

In photodynamic therapy, a light-sensitive chemical is injected into the body, where it remains longer in cancer cells than it does in normal cells. The chemical is activated with a laser that initiates the destruction of cancer cells. PDT often is used on very small tumors or to reduce certain symptoms of lung cancer.

Clinical Trials

MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.

Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about lung cancer in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.

Counseling

MD Anderson has licensed social workers to help patients and their loved ones cope with cancer.

myCancerConnection

Talk to someone who shares your cancer diagnosis and be matched with a survivor.

Prevention and Screening

Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.