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.
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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.
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