Treating Lung Cancer

Treatment of lung cancer at Virginia Mason, in Seattle, will depend on your general health, the type of cancer present in the lungs and its stage. Tumor stage is derived from the size and location of the tumor, and whether or not it has spread to the lymph glands or other organs.

Lung cancer is treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or with a combination of these therapies. Additionally, you may be eligible for an investigational study called a clinical trial that offers new approaches to treatment. Virginia Mason takes part in many clinical trials thereby offering access to new treatments not available elsewhere (see Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason).

  • Surgery 
  • Non-surgical Treatments
    • Endobronchial Therapy  
    • Chemotherapy 
    • Radiation Therapy 
  • Investigational Treatments

Small Cell Lung Cancer
In most cases, small cell lung cancer spreads to lymph nodes and other organs before symptoms develop. For this reason, surgery is rarely the best therapy. Usual treatment for this type of cancer, when it is confined to the chest, is chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy. If the cancer has spread outside the chest, chemotherapy alone is generally the preferred treatment. This cancer responds well to these therapies. Most patients get long-term responses to treatment and a few patients may be cured.

Malignant Mesothelioma
If the tumor is located in one spot in the pleura (the lining of the lung), your doctor may remove it surgically. If the cancer has spread within the pleura and is making pleural fluid, your doctor will help you consider controlling the symptoms with a procedure called pleural sclerosis. There may also be benefit from using chemotherapy drugs or radiation treatment.

Secondary Lung Cancer
Cancers from other parts of the body, such as the breast, can also spread to the lungs. When this occurs, the cancer that is in the lungs is not referred to as lung cancer. It is called metastatic breast cancer to the lungs because the tumor contains breast cancer cells. These tumors are sometimes treated with radiation or surgery.

If Cancer Reappears or Spreads
In some patients treated for lung cancer, the disease reappears in the lungs or elsewhere in the body. Small numbers of cells that survived the original treatment can multiply and cause cancer to recur. Your doctor will discuss treatment options with you that may be more effective for the recurrent cancer.

If initial exams and tests suggest a recurrence, a CT (computed tomography) scan, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), bone scans and a biopsy may be done. Depending on the location of a recurrent cancer, treatment may involve surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy, or treatment on an investigational clinical study.