Lung cancer - non-small cell; NSCLC
In addition to surgery, radiation is the other primary treatment for early-stage lung cancer. Doctors are also studying the benefits of radiation treatment in advanced lung cancer.
Radical Radiation in Early-Stage Cancer. Radical radiation is used as the sole procedure in stage I and some stage II patients who have adequate lung function but, for medical or other reasons, cannot be treated with surgery.
Combined Treatments for Improving Survival in Advanced Cancer. Radiation is also being investigated in various combinations with chemotherapy, surgery, or both. Radiation treatment plus platinum-based chemotherapy may extend survival times in advanced lung cancer. Other combinations are also showing promise.
Palliative Radiation. Doctors use palliative radiation to shrink tumors and reduce pain and symptoms. Palliative radiation is appropriate for patients with advanced disease and poor lung function, or for those with cancer that has spread. In up to 85% of patients with advanced disease, palliative radiation therapy helps relieve pain, shortness of breath, superior vena cava syndrome, coughing up blood, and symptoms caused by cancer that has spread to the brain. Radiation in these cases is not generally used to reduce mortality rates, although it may increase survival in some patients, such as those with excellent lung function whose tumors are small.
Delaying radiation therapy until symptoms develop in patients with minimal or no symptoms does not appear to reduce survival times or impair quality of life compared to starting it right away.
Radiation Therapy in Metastasis to the Brain. Radiation is the primary treatment when cancer has spread to the brain, unless the cancer is small enough to be treated surgically. When radiation is used, a technique called stereotactic radiosurgery may deliver powerful, highly targeted radiation to specific areas in the brain. Some trials are investigating using radiation to the head to prevent the cancer from spreading to the brain.
The goal of radiation treatment is to administer doses as high as possible to kill as many cancer cells as possible, without destroying surrounding healthy tissues or causing a dangerous reaction. Doctors may try different procedures for the same patient. The exact radiation procedure depends on the site of the cancer or how far it has spread.
Hyperfractionated radiotherapy gives smaller-than-standard doses a number of times a day (usually two or three). This allows doctors to use a higher dose over the whole course of treatment. It is not as useful as therapy by itself, but can have survival benefits when combined with chemotherapy.
Continuous Hyperfractionated Accelerated Radiotherapy. Continuous hyperfractionated accelerated radiotherapy (CHART) administers multiple doses of radiation per day but uses the standard doses. This allows the total dose of radiation to be administered over a shorter time period than the standard 6 weeks. CHART may give patients with localized cancer better survival rates than standard radiotherapy or non-accelerated hyperfractionated radiation. It can cause severe swallowing problems, though. Modifying the treatment by stopping it for 2 days out of 7 may help reduce this effect.
Three-dimensional (3-D) conformal radiotherapy delivers external-beam radiation specifically to targeted organs or tissues. This allows doctors to administer significantly higher doses to attack the cancer, while reducing the risk to healthy cells. This technique is probably considered the standard method of delivering radiation to lung tumors.
Radiation can have significant side effects when used as part of intensive treatments, such as hyperfractionated radiotherapy or radiotherapy in combination with chemotherapy. Among the most serious problems is severe inflammation in the esophagus (esophagitis) or lungs (pneumonitis). Infection is also a danger.
The use of targeted approaches, such as conformal radiotherapy, may help reduce these complications.
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