Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer Treatment

Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer Treatment: What you should know

The use of drugs to treat lung cancer is called chemotherapy or chemo for short. Chemotherapy for lung cancer treatment uses a drug (or a combination of drugs) that employs cell-killing medications (cytotoxic) to attack cancer cells. These drugs are usually given intravenously either by injection or infusion. Some chemo drugs are available in pill form. Chemo is the primary treatment for small cell lung cancer (SCLC). For non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), your doctor may recommend chemotherapy either before or after surgery.

Understand the basics of chemotherapy for lung cancer in this intro video from Hope with Answers. In this video, patient advocate Montessa Lee discusses chemotherapy for lung cancer with lung cancer researcher, Dr. Vincent Lam.

Learn more detailed information about chemotherapy for lung cancer in this intermediate video from Hope with Answers. In this video, lung cancer patient and advocate Montessa Lee discusses chemotherapy for lung cancer with Dr. Vincent Lam from Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Discover in-depth information about chemotherapy for lung cancer. Patient advocate Montessa Lee asks Dr. Vincent Lam to discuss new treatment options that help with the side effects of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy for Treatment of Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) spreads quickly from the lungs to other parts of the body. Currently the primary treatment for SCLC is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is administered either alone or in combination with radiation therapy and, in some cases, immunotherapy.

Initial chemotherapy for almost all patients with SCLC includes the combination of the drug etoposide with a platinum agent (either cisplatin or carboplatin). Patients diagnosed with limited-stage small cell lung cancer may receive a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time to shrink the tumor.

Patients diagnosed with extensive-stage SCLC typically receive chemotherapy only. Because radiation therapy is highly targeted, it is not an effective treatment once the cancer has spread from the lung to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

Doctors give chemotherapy to many patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Which drugs are used depends on the type of non-small cell lung cancer: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or large cell lung cancer.

There are four primary instances in which chemotherapy is used for NSCLC:

  • Before surgery
  • After surgery
  • As a standalone measure
  • In advanced cases

Chemotherapy before Surgery (Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy)

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy involves giving chemotherapy for several months prior to surgery. In some cases, cancer cells in the lymph nodes can be completely eliminated before surgery. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy has doubled the cure rate in patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer. This technique has cured patients with some forms of lung cancer who would not have been cured by surgery alone.

Chemotherapy after Surgery (Adjuvant Chemotherapy)

Another treatment approach is to give chemotherapy after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy). This lung cancer treatment technique depends on a variety of factors, including the size of the tumor. Adjuvant chemotherapy is often recommended when the cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes. Traditional adjuvant chemotherapy can kill any remaining cancer cells that may have been missed during the operation and improves chances for a cure.

What to expect with chemotherapy for lung cancer treatment?

A chemotherapy plan depends on the type and stage of lung cancer, overall health, and the personal treatment goals and preferences of the patient.

Usually an intravenous (IV) treatment, chemotherapy involves getting a quick shot into the vein or an infusion of the drug through a tube, which can take longer. This treatment may be delivered in a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital. The chemotherapy treatment is delivered in cycles of 3 to 4 weeks. Between cycles, the patient rests and recovers. These drugs may be administered only once a week or over a few days of each cycle. If the lung cancer is advanced, four to six cycles of treatment may be recommended.

What are the side effects of lung cancer chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy drugs can have many side effects depending on the drug, dose, or the length of your treatment. These side effects can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Greater risk of infection
  • Bruises
  • Easy bleeding

The side effects vary from one drug to another for many reasons. Not all chemo drugs cause hair loss, for example. Certain chemotherapy drugs or regimens have some side effects that are specific to it. And the side effects may vary a great deal from patient to patient. Some chemotherapy treatments cause peripheral neuropathy. There may be pain, burning, tingling, weakness, or cold sensitivity in the hands or feet. This usually goes away after treatments are finished.

How to relieve side effects of chemotherapy for lung cancer treatment

There are ways to ease most of the side effects of chemo treatments.

  • Eating a light meal before chemotherapy treatment
  • Drugs to treat nausea or vomiting
  • Some patients have found that relaxation techniques or hypnosis can help control nausea and vomiting.
  • Ginger or peppermint teas or candies to also ease chemo-related nausea
  • Cooling or cold caps that you can wear during chemo to stop or lessen hair loss

FDA-Approved Chemotherapy Treatments

  • All
  • SCLC

New Therapy To Make Chemotherapy Safer

“Preventing bone marrow damage proactively is an opportunity to improve the quality of life of patients receiving chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer and reduce costly rescue interventions.”

~ Jared Weiss, M.D.,
Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center,
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC

How can I find a Clinical Trial?

Here are 2 ways to find clinical trials – working with your doctor, you might get a jump on a new and better treatment even before it is available to others. This can accelerate medical breakthroughs for everyone and helps to increase lung cancer life expectancy.

Search for Clinical Trials with Antidote Match™

Antidote Match™ connects people with medical research studies, in the fastest and easiest way possible. All you need to do is answer a few questions, and they will find the right trials for you. You gain access to the latest medical developments and world-class care. image

Search for Clinical Trials at is a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world.


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