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How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed and Treated?

Types of Lung Cancer

There two main types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These categories refer to what the cancer cells look like under a microscope. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common than small cell lung cancer.

Staging

If lung cancer is diagnosed, other tests are done to find out how far it has spread through the lungs, lymph nodes, and the rest of the body. This process is called staging. The type and stage of lung cancer tells doctors what kind of treatment you need. For more information, visit Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and Stages of Small Cell Lung Cancer.

Types of Treatment

Lung cancer is treated in several ways, depending on the type of lung cancer and how far it has spread. People with non-small cell lung cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments. People with small cell lung cancer are usually treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

  • Surgery. An operation where doctors cut out cancer tissue.
  • Chemotherapy. Using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
  • Radiation therapy. Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer.
  • Targeted therapy. Using drugs to block the growth and spread of cancer cells. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins.

Doctors from different specialties often work together to treat lung cancer. Pulmonologists are doctors who are experts in diseases of the lungs. Surgeons are doctors who perform operations. Thoracic surgeons specialize in chest, heart, and lung surgery. Medical oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with medicines. Radiation oncologists are doctors who treat cancers with radiation.

For more information, visit the National Cancer Institute’s Lung Cancer Treatment page. This site can also help you find a doctor or treatment facility that works in cancer care. Visit Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment for more information about treatment and links that can help with treatment choices.

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