Lung Cancer Treatment Stage By Stage

As explained in our section on Lung Cancer Treatment, treatment options for lung cancer vary according the stage the cancer has reached (namely how much the cancer has grown and spread within the body) among other things. Lung cancer can occur in primary (starting in the lung itself) or secondary form (starting elsewhere in the body and spreading to lungs). Even within primary or secondary lung cancer there are several sub-categories of the disease which will influence the type of treatment that a lung cancer patient will receive. Treatment for secondary lung cancer will depend on the type of the original cancer and its spread. Treatment for primary lung cancer will depend on its type (small cell or non-small cell lung cancer), its size and position in the lungs, its spread (or stage) and the overall health of the patient.


The different types and sub-types of lung cancer may present quite a confusing picture to a patient and his or her loved ones. It is the job of the oncologist to carry out thorough testing to diagnose the exact type of cancer and determine the best possible treatment. Here we have broken down the types of treatment into two groups; treatment for small cell lung cancer and treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer has four stages and treatment at each stage will vary. Generally, a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery will be used.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small cell lung cancer tends to have spread around the body before the patient or his or her doctor begins to notice symptoms. This means that surgery to remove the tissue affected by the cancer is no longer an option as too much tissue would have to be taken away from several different places. In this case, chemotherapy may be used on its own or before radiotherapy. The aim of treatment in this situation is to relieve symptoms and prolong the life of the patient.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

The vast majority (around 80%) of primary lung cancer cases are due to non-small cell lung cancer. Lung cancer is nearly always difficult to treat but, as with any cancer, the earlier it is caught, the less chance it has to spread and the better the prognosis for the patient.

Stage One

At stage one, the non-small cell lung cancer is contained within the lungs and has not spread to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body. At this stage, surgery is often used to remove the cancerous tissue. Surgery may be followed up by chemotherapy or radiotherapy to prevent the cancer returning. If the patient is too unhealthy to withstand a surgical procedure, radiotherapy may be used from outset. For very small tumors, a procedure called radiofrequency ablation or RFA may be used, whereby radio waves are entered directly into the tumor via an electrode needle.

Stages Two And Three

At these stages, the lung cancer has spread into the lymph nodes. Surgery will be used if possible, but treatment may have to begin with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Stage Four

Many lung cancer patients are diagnosed only at stage four when the cancer has already spread around the body and is causing uncomfortable symptoms for the sufferer. Surgery is usually not an effective treatment at this stage. Patients should expect chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy to be used either alone or in combination with one another. Treatment at this stage focuses on alleviating the symptoms and maintaining the patient's quality of life for as long as possible.


Lung cancer has the lowest survival rate of any cancer because it is often only diagnosed after it has spread. Prevention of lung cancer is obviously better than a cure and there are some concrete steps you can take to protect yourself from this deadly disease. Giving up smoking is the first one. There is no doubt that smoking is the major cause of lung cancer. Even if you think it's too late - perhaps you or someone you love has already been diagnosed, or you've been smoking for years already - quitting now will still help, even if just a little. The sooner you stop smoking, the sooner your lungs get a break from those poisonous chemicals, and the sooner you stop forcing those around you to risk lung cancer by breathing in your smoke.