Effective Approaches in the Treatment of Non Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for between 80- to 85% of total lung cancer cases. NSCLC is classified as any type of epithelial lung cancer other than small cell lung carcinoma (or SCLC) that grows and spreads more slowly compared to small cell lung cancer. There are 3 main types of NSCLC, including:

  • Squamous cell carcinomas, which develop in the center of the lung next to the bronchus (air tube).
  • Large cell carcinomas, which can grow in any part of the lung.
  • Adenocarcinomas, which develop in the outer tissue of the lung.

Dependant on type and cancer progression NSCLC are typically treated using a combination of chemotherapy, radiation, and cancer surgery:

1. NSCLC surgery
Surgery is a possibility when non small cell lung cancer diagnosis occurs in the early stages of the disease. Depending on tumor location, the following procedures may be effective:

  • Pneumonectomy: If the tumor is close to the chest a pneumonectomy, which removes the lung, may be performed.
  • Lobectomy: refers to the removal of a cancerous lung lobe while a partial lung removal is called a segmentectomy.
  • Sleeve resection: involves removing the cancerous section of lung and suturing the healthy sections of lung together.
  • Minimally invasive video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS): removes tumors on the outside of the lung.

2. Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)
Aims to treat cancer near the outside of the lung when surgery is contraindicated. RFA delivers heat to the tumor through a probe.

3. Radiation therapy
Radiation may be used after a small cell lung cancer diagnosis to treat inoperable tumors, if the patient can’t withstand surgery, or to shrink a tumor before surgery. It may be used as the only treatment or in conjunction with other treatments. Radiation pelts cancerous cells with high-energy X-rays. External beam radiation therapy sends radiation through the body to the cancer cells. Internal radiation therapy is the implantation of a radioactive medicine near the tumor.

4. Chemotherapy
Chemo is the oral or intravenous administration of an anticancer drug or drugs. Chemotherapy can be used alone or paired with other lung cancer treatments. Cancer in multiple places can be treated simultaneously with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is used when cancer can’t be treated surgically, to shrink tumors pre surgery, and to destroy cancer cells surgery missed.

5. Targeted drug therapies
These therapies are usually employed in the later stages of NSCLC. The meds used during targeted drug therapies address mutations in the cancer cells. Tumors need blood vessels to stay alive. Angiogenesis drugs are administered to prevent the growth of cancer cell feeding blood vessels. The growth and division of cancer cells are aided by one of three types of proteins. One of these proteins is the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) protein. Mutations in the Anaplastic Lymphoma Kinase (ALK) and BRAF genes produce a cancer cell promoting protein. Targeted Drug Therapy can in include the use of inhibitors that target a specific cancel cell aiding protein.

6. Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy helps the patient’s immune system differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells. Cancer cells can protect themselves from the immune system by effectively manipulating molecules called “checkpoints”. Checkpoints govern the activation and deactivation of the immune system. Immunotherapy drugs help the immune system combat cancer cells while protecting healthy cells.

7. Palliative care
Or supportive care addresses symptoms not reduced by the previously listed lung cancer treatments. Fluid around the lungs and heart as well as tumors obstructing the airway are Palliative care issues.