Until recently, a diagnosis of lung cancer usually meant a poor prognosis, especially since lung cancer symptoms don’t appear until the disease has progressed. But with new early detection tools and innovative treatment options, the outlook has never been better.
Each of our cancer centers across Kentucky is staffed by some of the region’s leading lung cancer specialists. Together, this dedicated team—including board-certified pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, specialized nurses and more—will work with you to create the best possible treatment plan. You may also qualify for cutting-edge cancer clinical trials, right here at home.
We specialize in minimizing pain and side effects, so you can focus on getting well. And you have access to a full range of cancer support services, plus nutritionists and social workers to guide you every step of the way.
Treatment for lung cancer depends on a variety of factors, including the type and stage of the lung cancer (early or advanced), as well as your overall health and personal preferences.
Your treatment plan may include one or a combination of:
Surgery is performed to remove the lung tumor, as well as nearby lymph nodes in the chest to check for signs of cancer. It is typically used for early stage lung cancer, when the cancer has not spread, and in some cases, may completely cure the disease. Following surgery, additional treatments such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be used to lower the risk of the cancer returning.
The highly skilled thoracic surgeons at CHI Saint Joseph Health will help determine the best type of surgery for you. The most common procedure is called a lobectomy, which removes sections of the lung. We specialize in video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)—a minimally invasive technique where a tiny video camera is inserted into the chest to guide the surgeon in performing the tumor removal.
Traditional open lobectomy involves large incisions to open the chest wall. Because VATS only uses a few small incisions, patients often experience significantly less pain, a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery.
Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays to shrink or kill cancer cells. Radiation may also be used to help prevent recurrence of disease. These brief, painless treatments can be specifically directed at the part of the body where the cancer is located. Treatments are delivered by linear accelerators, where patients lie on a table in a specially designed room.
CHI Saint Joseph Health uses the most advanced technology available to target the tumor with extreme precision. Treatments include 3D conformal therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and volumetric modulated radiation therapy (VMAT). Image guided radiation therapy (IGRT), stereotactic radiation (SBRT) and use of a hexapod table ensure treatments are focused directly on the target, while minimizing dose to surrounding healthy tissue.
Definitive Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer: When radiation therapy is intended to be the mainstay of treatment we call that definitive radiation therapy. There are two major categories of this type of radiation therapy:
SBRT or Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy: SBRT is very effective and offers local control rates comparable to surgery for small lung cancers. It is also very convenient for the patient since it requires fewer visits to our clinic.
With SBRT, fewer treatment sessions are needed because the dose of radiation per session is much larger. Unfortunately, not every early stage lung cancer can be treated with SBRT. Tumors that are too close to the ribcage, heart, major blood vessels or the windpipe cannot be treated with SBRT because the large doses pose a risk of damage to these parts of the anatomy.
A good example of a tumor that can be treated with SBRT is a small tumor in the middle of the lung, well away from the ribcage and the structures of the central chest.
Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells with powerful medicines delivered in varied cycles through either an IV or a pill. It may be used to shrink a tumor before surgery, to kill cancer cells that remain in the body after surgery or radiation, to treat tumors that have developed in other areas, or to relieve symptoms when the cancer cannot be cured. Chemotherapy has shown to improve both the length and quality of life for people with lung cancer of all stages. Whenever possible, KentuckyOne uses newer medications that help maximize results and minimize side effects.
Recent FDA-approved drug therapies give people the ability to fight lung cancer using the body’s natural defense mechanism: the immune system. Immunotherapy works by making hidden cancer cells visible to the immune system, allowing white blood cells to fight and kill the cancer.
Studies have shown immunotherapy drugs to be well-tolerated with minimal side effects, and when combined with more traditional treatments, have doubled lung cancer survival rates.
We now assess lung cancer for genetic alterations that can be targeted with oral (pill) treatments. Mutations in the EGFR, ALK, ROS and BRAF genes can be targeted by drug therapy and help us develop a personalized treatment plan to each patient’s tumor. Inhibitors of these growth pathways are like on/off switches and can sometimes be more effective than chemotherapy for these patients.
Most targeted therapies are oral medications that can be taken at home. They can spare patients of hair loss, nausea, low blood counts or increased risk for infection. They are also more convenient and can enhance quality of life compared to standard treatments.