At MD Anderson, some of the nation’s top lung 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 treatment for lung cancer – 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.
Lung Cancer 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 lung surgeries 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)
Lung Cancer 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.
Lung Cancer 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.
Lung Cancer 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
Lung Cancer 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.
Lung Cancer 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.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering
promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
Find the latest news and information about lung cancer in our
Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news
releases and more.
Suzan Shughart had an extra reason to celebrate on her 60th birthday: It was also her last day of lung cancer treatment at MD Anderson.
It was a day she’d thought might never come. Less than a year earlier, doctors had told Suzan she had 18-24 months to live.
“My brain just said no,” she says. “I’ve got four children. I’ve got grandchildren. I have a lot of living to do.”
A mysterious lung cancer diagnosis
When Suzan had first received her cancer diagnosis, her doctors were stumped. Her test results showed both large and small cell lung cancer, not in her lung but in her chest.
Her doctor suggested that she start treatment and, said that if that didn’t work, she could seek a second opinion at MD Anderson. But Suzan decided to skip the first step, instead heading to Houston, home to MD Anderson and one of Suzan’s sons.
At MD Anderson, doctors spent a whole day examining Suzan. Then, for the next 30 days, they performed different tests on her, trying to find the best way to defeat her cancer.
Eventually, Suzan received her lung cancer diagnosis: a high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma, an anterior mediastinal tumor attached to the pericardium, a double-walled sac that holds the heart and aorta. Her treatment was to include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. After undergoing surgery, she was able to return home to Arizona to have her chemotherapy administered.
Treating lung cancer with proton therapy
After completing chemotherapy, Suzan returned to MD Anderson to begin radiation therapy and again shocked her doctors: her cancer had returned.
This time, doctors recommended a new type of treatment at a soon-to-open clinic: proton therapy. This would allow radiation to target Suzan’s cancer, but save the vital organs surrounding it, specifically her heart.
Every day for seven weeks, Suzan drove herself to the clinic for treatment at 7 a.m. sharp. She was usually back at her son’s home by 8, unless she stopped to pick up breakfast for her family.
“I was never sick a day,” Suzan says. But she did suffer other side effects. Her chest burned from the radiation treatment, and eating became difficult. Toward the end of her proton therapy treatment, Suzan considered dipping a spoon in yogurt a large meal. After proton therapy, she underwent esophageal dilation to make swallowing easier.
“It was a small price to pay,” she says. “I’m alive, and that’s what
A surprising breast cancer diagnosis
But that wasn’t the end of Suzan’s cancer journey. In May 2009, during her lung cancer follow-up appointment, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Suzan took her breast cancer in stride and was just relieved that the lung cancer hadn’t returned and spread. Because Suzan’s lung cancer treatment had been so successful, she chose to continue treatment at MD Anderson.
“The thought that I might die from breast cancer never crossed my mind,” Suzan says. “Do you think I might have been in a little denial? Maybe, but it kept my attitude positive,” she adds with a laugh.
The doctors knew they couldn’t use any more radiation after all the radiation therapy Suzan had already endured for her lung cancer. But after a mastectomy, she was cancer-free.
An appreciation for MD Anderson and life as a cancer
Now, Suzan travels to MD Anderson twice a year for follow-up care: once for breast cancer and once for lung cancer. Each time she returns, she notices positive changes at MD Anderson.
“What I like best about MD Anderson is they don’t rest on their laurels,” she says. “They’re always improving.”
While the distance between appointments has grown, Suzan takes comfort in the familiar surroundings – and the excuse to visit her family.
Not long before her original lung cancer diagnosis, Suzan’s granddaughter was born. Because she was undergoing lung cancer treatment in Houston and continues to return for follow-up visits, she’s gotten to witness many milestones, including her first steps.
“I wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t had cancer,” she says. “I was right where I needed to be.”
Lung cancer is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Lung Cancer Moon Shot.