Treatments for lung cancer – what to expect

The goal of any cancer treatment is to try to cure cancer and allow you to live as long a life as possible. Depending on several factors including the kind of cancer you have, the speed at which it is growing and the stage at which it was detected, your cancer may not be curable. In such a case your doctor will use treatment modalities to either shrink the cancer, slow its growth or help you live symptom-free for as long as possible.

In terms of cancer treatments, it is divided into three phases.

Primary treatment: This is where treatment modalities are used to either completely remove the cancer or shrink it.

The most common method of primary treatment for most cancers is surgery. But if the type of cancer you have is particularly sensitive to radiation or chemotherapy, those modalities may be used.

Adjuvant treatment: The goal of adjuvant therapy is to get rid of any cancer cells that might remain in your body after primary therapy and to prevent its recurrence. The most common types of adjuvant therapy include chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormone therapy.

Palliative treatment: Is used to relieve the symptoms arising from cancer treatment or the cancer itself. Chemotherapy, hormone therapy and radiation therapy can all be used to relive symptoms. In some cases, certain drugs can also be used to relieve symptoms like pain and shortness of breath.

In some cases, palliative treatments can also be used in conjunction with other treatment modalities.

The kind of treatment you undergo depends on a number of factors including the type of cancer you have, the stage, your general health and your preference. Your cancer treatment options and what you can expect are as follows:

Surgery: The aim of surgery is to remove the cancer or as much of it as possible. The side effects and their severity vary from person to person.

What to expect: Some of the most common side effects you might experience after surgery are pain, swelling, bruising around the surgical area, fatigue, loss of appetite, drainage from the surgical site, numbness, bleeding and organ dysfunction (in some cases surgery may cause the organs around the surgical region to temporarily malfunction). The onset of these symptoms might be right after the surgery, others may appear anywhere between a few days to few weeks after the surgery.

Radiation: This type of therapy uses high-powered energy beams to kill cancer cells. In some cases, it may be from an external source (external beam radiation) or may be administered through a device placed within your body (brachytherapy)

What to expect: While the severity and type of side effects you experience with radiation therapy varies from person to person, region which has been treated and intensity of the treatment, the common side effects include dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling of the skin, fatigue and long-term side effects of having another cancer develop.

Side effect/reactions to radiation therapy is often seen to appear during the second or third week of treatment. In some cases the symptoms may last for several weeks after final treatment. Some side effects may be long term. 

Chemotherapy: Uses drugs to kill fast-growing cancer cells.

What to expect: Some of the most common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, hair loss, loss of appetite, oral blisters, loss of taste, fatigue, fever, mouth sores, pain, constipation, easy bruising and bleeding. These symptoms are usually apparent after about 2-3 weeks of treatment.

 Immunotherapy: Also known as biological therapy, immunotherapy uses your body’s immune system to fight cancer, by recognizing it and attacking it.

What to expect: Some of the most common side effects of immunotherapy are fatigue, nausea, fever, chills, weakness, vomiting, dizziness, body aches, and high or low blood pressure. Some immunotherapy side effects, such as infusion-related reactions or injection site pain, can occur shortly after treatment is administered. However, most side effects may not occur until weeks or months or longer after treatment.

Targeted drug therapy: This type of treatment uses drugs to focus on specific abnormalities within cancer cells that allow them to survive.

What to expect: The side effects you might experience depends on the type of drug you have been administered. Some of the most common side effects are skin rashes, skin changes, dry and brittle hair, changes in hair or skin colour, burning eyes, redness or swollen eyelids. Usually, these side-effects start in the first two to six weeks of treatment. 


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