Lung cancer

What is the treatment for lung cancer?

On this page, we cover the different treatments that are available in the UK for lung cancer. We also explain target treatment times for the UK.

If you live in England, your hospital should aim to start treatment within one month of diagnosis. If you live in the rest of the UK, you should start treatment within one month of the decision to treat. This should be within two months of your original urgent referral.

In some cases, it can take longer to diagnose or treat your condition. Waiting for tests and results can be frustrating and upsetting. Remember that it’s important to get the right treatment as well as getting treatment quickly.

In the past 10 years there’s been a lot of progress in lung cancer treatments. People are usually given more than one treatment at a time and you might have several courses of treatment.

The outcome of lung cancer has gradually improved over recent years. Survival is closely related to stage of disease. If the cancer is detected and treated at an early stage, more people will survive for longer.

The main treatments for lung cancer are:


Surgery

There are a few different types of surgery. The surgeon might remove a section of your lung or your whole lung.


Drug therapies

These include:

  • chemotherapy: This is medication that attacks cancer cells. They may be delivered straight into your bloodstream through a drip or you might have injections or tablets.
  • targeted treatments: These are medicines, such as erlotinib, gefitinib and crizotinib, that stop the genetic mutations that cause some types of lung cancer. They can be very effective.
  • immunotherapies: These are medicines that work on the immune system in the body to enhance its response to cancer cells. An example is pembrolizumab, which can be used on its own or in combination with chemotherapy to treat metastatic NSCLC.

Radiotherapy

This treatment uses high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells.  This can be both curative and palliative – helping to manage symptoms.


Palliative care

These are treatments to help reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. This includes controlling pain and symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety and breathlessness. Palliative care is there to provide support at all stages of cancer. There’s evidence to show that in some cases, early palliative care can lead to significant improvements in your quality of life and mood.

When your treatment ends, you should have a follow-up appointment within six weeks to discuss your ongoing care. Your cancer nurse specialist will be an important contact during and following your treatment. Your GP can tell you if there are any community-based cancer nurse specialists in your area.

End of life care

Sometimes lung cancer can’t be cured. End of life care is designed to make you as comfortable as possible.

This includes palliative care to control pain and other symptoms. It also aims to support you, your family and carers emotionally, spiritually and practically before and after death or bereavement.

Talk to your doctor or nurse about your local services. Find out more about end of life care.

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Last medically reviewed: February 2020. Due for review: February 2023

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.