When is Radiation Used for Lung Cancer? The type of radiation treatment for lung cancer depends on many of your personal factors, including:

  • The type of lung cancer
  • The size and location the tumor
  • How close the tumor is to normal tissues that are sensitive to radiation
  • Whether you will have other types of cancer treatment
  • Your general health and medical history
  • Your age and other medical conditions

The standard treatment for small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is radiation to the chest given at the same time as chemotherapy (called concurrent chemoradiation).

Radiation therapy can also be used to prevent SCLC from spreading to the brain. In the case of extensive-stage SCLC, it may be used to palliate tumors elsewhere in the body, such as in the brain or bone, before chemotherapy.

People with early-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who are not candidates for surgery are typically treated with stereotactic body radiation therapy. This treatment offers excellent long-term chances to eliminate small lung lesions.

Types of Treatment

Every person reacts differently to radiation treatment. Side effects experienced depend on the type and location of the lung cancer, the dose of radiation being given, and the patient’s general health.

Common side effects patients may deal with are: fatigue, skin problems, hair loss, nausea and vomiting, weight loss and lack of appetite.

Radiation therapy slows or stops tumor growth by damaging the DNA and stops cancer cells from dividing and growing. In many cases, radiation therapy kills all of the cancer cells, thus shrinking or eliminating tumors.

Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT)

Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT) is used to treat tumors that in the past might have been considered too close to vital organs and structures for radiation therapy. Using this specialized equipment and software allows the radiation oncologist to develop a radiation therapy treatment plan with more precision.

Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)

This treatment is carefully planned by using 3-D computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MRI) images of the patient along with computerized calculations to the best dose intensity pattern specifically for the tumor. To achieve this precision therapy, IMRT does require slightly longer daily treatment times. Most facilities rely on a specially trained team for IMRT delivery. This team includes the radiation oncologist, medical physicist, dosimetrist, radiation therapist and radiation therapy nurse. It requires additional planning and safety checks prior to starting the treatment when compared with conventional radiotherapy.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)

Stereotactic radiation is a type of external radiation therapy that uses special equipment to position the patient and precisely deliver radiation to a tumor. SBRT is also known as stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR). This therapy is given in fewer (usually 1 to 5) treatments. Several beams are aimed at the tumor from different angles.

Because doctors are able to treat lung cancers more accurately, this procedure lessens the radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissues.

These advanced stereotactic radiation techniques allow for effective treatment of brain metastases. Stereotactic radiosurgery only targets areas of the brain that are suspected to be affected by the disease. Stereotactic radiosurgery may help patients avoid nervous system side effects caused by whole brain radiation therapy.

For some people, radiation may be the only treatment you need. But, most often, you will have radiation therapy with other cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Radiation therapy may be given before, during, or after these other treatments to improve the chances that treatment will work.

Radiation therapy may be used in conjunction with surgery. In this scenario, radiation targets potential microscopic disease after surgery.

There are clinical trials aimed to further improve the precision of imaging and radiation delivery techniques. Doctors continue to search for radiation treatments that minimize damage to the patient’s surrounding normal tissues and maximize the effectiveness of the radiation treatment to the tumor.

If radiation is suggested for lung cancer treatment, the best strategy may be to enroll in a clinical trial that evaluates new radiation techniques or combinations of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Doctors are also studying several targeted drugs in combination with radiation therapy to understand how radiation therapy and the immune system interact to fight cancer.

Your understanding of radiation treatment for lung cancer is important. Discuss any questions or concerns with your healthcare team.

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What to Expect

Radiation therapy is a common treatment option for lung cancer patients. It involves the use of high-energy rays to target and destroy cancer cells. This is an overview of what to expect from radiation treatment for lung cancer, including the process, potential side effects, and the importance of personalized treatment plans.

The Process of Radiation Treatment

Radiation therapy for lung cancer typically involves a series of treatment sessions. Before starting treatment, a simulation session is conducted to determine the precise location for radiation delivery. This may involve imaging scans, such as CT scans, to create a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s specific needs.

Types of Radiation Therapy

There are two main types of radiation therapy used for lung cancer: external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) and internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy). EBRT involves directing radiation from an external machine towards the tumor, while brachytherapy involves placing radioactive sources directly into or near the tumor.

Personalized Treatment Plans

Every lung cancer patient is unique, and treatment plans should be tailored to their specific needs. Factors such as the stage of cancer, overall health, and individual preferences are taken into account when determining the optimal radiation treatment approach. It is essential to work closely with a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals to develop a personalized treatment plan.

Combining Radiation Therapy with Other Treatments

Radiation therapy is often used in combination with other treatments for lung cancer, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy. These treatment modalities may be used sequentially or concurrently, depending on the individual case. The goal is to provide the most effective treatment regimen for each patient.

Follow-up Care: After completing radiation therapy, regular follow-up appointments will be scheduled to monitor your progress and assess any potential long-term side effects. These appointments may include imaging tests, physical examinations, and discussions about ongoing care and survivorship.


Side Effects

Radiation therapy is a common treatment option for lung cancer. It uses high-energy radiation to target and destroy cancer cells. While radiation therapy can be effective in treating lung cancer, it may also cause side effects. It is important to understand these potential side effects to better prepare and manage them. In this article, we will discuss the common side effects of radiation for lung cancer, based on information from reputable sources such as the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute.


Radiation therapy can cause fatigue, which is a feeling of extreme tiredness. Fatigue may persist throughout the treatment period and for some time afterward. It is important to rest and conserve energy during this time.

Skin Changes

Radiation therapy can cause skin changes in the treated area. The skin may become red, dry, and itchy. In some cases, it may become more sensitive and prone to blistering or peeling. It is essential to keep the treated area clean and avoid exposure to extreme temperatures.

Hair Loss

Radiation therapy to the chest area may lead to temporary hair loss in the treated area. The extent of hair loss depends on the dose and duration of radiation. Hair usually grows back after treatment ends.

Difficulty Swallowing

Radiation therapy for lung cancer may cause inflammation and irritation in the esophagus, leading to difficulty swallowing. This can result in pain or discomfort while eating or drinking. It is important to inform your healthcare team if you experience any swallowing difficulties.

Lung Problems

Radiation therapy can sometimes cause inflammation in the lungs, leading to shortness of breath, coughing, or chest discomfort. These symptoms are usually temporary but should be reported to your healthcare team. Nausea and Vomiting: Although radiation therapy for lung cancer typically does not cause severe nausea and vomiting, some individuals may experience mild to moderate symptoms. Medications can help manage these side effects, and it is important to communicate any symptoms to your healthcare team.

Long-Term Effects

In some cases, radiation therapy for lung cancer may cause long-term side effects. These can include lung scarring (radiation pneumonitis), heart problems, or damage to nearby tissues. The risk of long-term effects varies depending on the radiation dose and the individual’s overall health.