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Treatment and Care 

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There are varied treatment options for people with lung cancer and you may receive more than one type of treatment.

When you seek cancer treatment at a single Sentara facility, you are actually tapping into a comprehensive network of cancer care. Within the network, you’ll find the most innovative technologies and methods being used anywhere. You’ll benefit from highly skilled physician leaders who are committed to your comfort and recovery. And you’ll be able to get that care close to home and family.

The Sentara Cancer Network is often involved in clinical trials. A clinical trial is a research study involving patients to determine if a new drug or a medical procedure or device is safe and effective. Clinical trials may also be used to study different ways of using treatments to make them more effective, easier to use or to decrease side effects.

Learn more about clinical trials at Sentara


Surgery for lung cancer removes the tissue that contains the tumor. The surgeon also removes nearby lymph nodes.

The surgeon removes part or all of the lung:

A small part of the lung (wedge resection or segmentectomy): The surgeon removes the tumor and a small part of the lung.

A lobe of the lung (lobectomy or sleeve lobectomy): The surgeon removes a lobe of the lung. This is the most common surgery for lung cancer.

All of the lung (pneumonectomy): The surgeon removes the entire lung.

After lung surgery, air and fluid collect in the chest. A chest tube allows the fluid to drain. Also, a nurse or respiratory therapist will teach you coughing and breathing exercises. You'll need to do the exercises several times a day.

The time it takes to heal after surgery is different for everyone. Your hospital stay may be a week or longer. It may be several weeks before you return to normal activities.
Medicine can help control your pain after surgery. Before surgery, you should discuss the plan for pain relief with your doctor or nurse. After surgery, your doctor can adjust the plan if you need more pain relief.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the treated area.

You may receive external radiation. This is the most common type of radiation therapy for lung cancer. The radiation comes from a large machine outside your body. Most people go to a hospital or clinic for treatment. Treatments are usually five days a week for several weeks.

Another type of radiation therapy is internal radiation. Internal radiation is seldom used for people with lung cancer. The radiation comes from a seed, wire or another device put inside your body.

The side effects depend mainly on the type of radiation therapy, the dose of radiation, and the part of your body that is treated. External radiation therapy to the chest may harm the esophagus, causing problems with swallowing. You may also feel very tired. In addition, your skin in the treated area may become red, dry and tender. After internal radiation therapy, a person may cough up small amounts of blood.

Sentara's advanced radiation therapies include:

External Beam Radiation Therapy or IORT
This is a method for delivering a beam of high-energy X-rays to the location of the patient's tumor. These X-rays can destroy the cancer cells and careful treatment planning allows the surrounding normal tissues to be spared.

Brachytherapy/Radioactive Seed Implant Therapy
Brachytherapy is a form of radiotherapy where a radioactive source is placed inside or next to the area requiring treatment.


Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells all over the body.

Usually, more than one drug is given. Anticancer drugs for lung cancer are usually given through a vein. Some anticancer drugs can be taken by mouth.

Chemotherapy is given in cycles. You have a rest period after each treatment period. The length of the rest period and the number of cycles depend on the anticancer drugs used.

You may have your treatment in a clinic, at the doctor's office, or at home. Some people may need to stay in the hospital for treatment.

The side effects depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. The drugs can harm normal cells that divide rapidly:

  • Blood cells: When chemotherapy lowers your levels of healthy blood cells, you're more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team gives you blood tests to check for low levels of blood cells. If the levels are low, there are medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.
  • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. Your hair will grow back after treatment ends, but it may be somewhat different in color and texture.
  • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Ask your health care team about treatments that help with these problems.

Some drugs for lung cancer can cause hearing loss, joint pain, and tingling or numbness in your hands and feet. These side effects usually go away after treatment ends.

When radiation therapy and chemotherapy are given at the same time, the side effects may be worse.

Targeted Therapy
Targeted therapy uses drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells all over the body. Some people with non-small cell lung cancer that has spread receive targeted therapy.

There are two kinds of targeted therapy for lung cancer:

  • One kind is given through a vein (intravenous) at the doctor's office, hospital, or clinic. It's given at the same time as chemotherapy. The side effects may include bleeding, coughing up blood, a rash, high blood pressure, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Another kind of targeted therapy is taken by mouth. It isn't given with chemotherapy. The side effects may include rash, diarrhea, and shortness of breath.

During treatment, your health care team will watch for signs of problems. Side effects usually go away after treatment ends.

Integrative Therapies

For some patients, it can be beneficial to combine conventional treatment modalities with holistic approaches related to diet, lifestyle, exercise, stress care and nutrition. Some complementary therapies may help relieve certain symptoms of cancer, relieve side effects of cancer therapy, or improve a patient's sense of well-being.

Examples might include drinking peppermint tea for nausea or engaging in massage therapy, yoga or meditation to reduce stress. If you’re interested in trying a complementary approach, contact your physician or health care team to see what is available and what may be appropriate for you.

Follow-up Care

Regular checkups after lung cancer treatment will take place every three months. Checkups help ensure that any changes in your health are noted and treated if necessary. Should you have any health problems that occur between checkups, you should contact your doctor. Checkups may include physical exams, blood tests and CT scans.

Palliative Care

Palliative therapy is care given to improve the quality of life of patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease. The goal of palliative care is to prevent or treat as early as possible the symptoms of a disease, side effects caused by treatment of a disease, and psychological, social, and spiritual problems related to a disease or its treatment. Also called comfort care, supportive care, and symptom management.

Learn more about lung cancer

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