Medicinal Treatments for Non Small Cell Lung Cancer: Standard Treatments Including Surgery, Radiation, Chemotherapy and Others, and Clinical Trials

Page content

Non-small cell lung cancer, or NSCLC, is the most common kind of lung cancer. Compared to small cell lung cancer, it generally grows and spreads more slowly. Three forms of NSCLC include adenocarcinomas, which are found in the outer lung area; squamous cell carcinomas, found in the center of the lung next to an air tube; and large cell carcinomas, which can be found in any part of the lung and spread faster than the other two types.

The causes of lung cancer include smoking, high levels of air pollution, water containing high levels of arsenic and radiation therapy to the lungs. Working around cancer-causing chemicals such as asbestos, chloride and formaldehyde, certain paints, alloys, pigments or preservatives also create a risk.

In its early stages, lung cancer may have no symptoms. Symptoms to be aware of include a cough that hangs on, coughing up blood, wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite, or weight loss without trying. Once you have been diagnosed, you can proceed with medicinal treatments for non-small cell lung cancer.


The nine types of medicinal treatments for non-small cell lung cancer include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, laser therapy, photodynamic therapy, cryosurgery, electrocautery and watchful waiting.

There are four different types of surgery used, ranging from a wedge resection to a lobectomy, a pneumonectomy to a sleeve resection. The type of surgery used depends on the size and location of the tumor.

Radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy x-rays or other radiation to keep cancer cells from growing or annihilate them completely. External radiation is conducted by a machine outside the body, while internal radiation therapy uses radioactive material housed in needles, seeds, wires or catheters near or directly into the cancer. Radiosurgery delivers radiation to the tumor with little damage to surrounding healthy tissue. It is sometimes used to treat patients who cannot have surgery.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or keep them from dividing. It can be taken orally, intravenously or regionally.

Targeted therapy uses drugs or other substances to locate and attack specific cancer cells while not harming normal cells. Both monoclonal antibodies and tyrosine kinase inhibitors are used in non-small cell lung cancer treatment.

Laser therapy kills cancer cells through the use of a laser beam, a narrow beam of intense light.

Photodynamic therapy uses a drug and special kind of laser light to kill cancer cells.

Cryosurgery is the use of an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue.

In electrocautery a probe or needle that is heated by an electric current destroys abnormal tissue.

In certain rare cases of non-small cell lung cancer, watchful waiting can be used to closely monitor a patient’s condition until symptoms appear or change.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are done to ascertain the safety and effectiveness of new cancer treatments, compared to the standard treatments. Many of the standard treatments of today were once clinical trials. For some patients, participating in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Some trials only include patients who have not received any other treatment.

Chemoprevention is the use of drugs, vitamins or other substances to reduce the risk of developing cancer or to decrease the risk of a recurrence.


National Cancer Institute: