If you’ve been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed, scared, and have many questions regarding your condition. Can my lung cancer be treated? Can it be cured? What will my life be like from now on?
“Many patients don’t have a lot of information about lung cancer,” says Jorge Gomez, MD, a lung oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Some of them haven’t heard about the newer therapies that can prolong life, can improve quality of life, and have had a significant impact in the treatment of lung cancer.”
What Is Advanced Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer is divided into three different categories: localized lung cancer, locally advanced lung cancer, and advanced or metastatic cancer.
When doctors use the term “advanced lung cancer” they’re often talking about stage III or stage IV lung cancer. Because lung cancer is often difficult to find in its early stages, most people are diagnosed after the disease has become advanced.
“About half of the patients who are diagnosed with lung cancer are diagnosed with metastatic or advanced disease. The other half are diagnosed with either localized or locally advanced disease,” says Dr. Gomez.
A stage III diagnosis means the cancer might be large, and/or it may have spread to lymph nodes in the middle of the chest, between the left and right lungs. There are two kinds of stage III lung cancers:
A stage IV diagnosis means the cancer is at the most advanced stage, and has spread to the other lung or to other parts of the body, such as the brain or bones, or it’s caused fluid to collect around the outside of the lungs.
How Advanced Lung Cancer Is Treated
There are many effective therapies for treating lung cancer. Choosing the right treatment depends on the stage of your cancer and what course of treatment works best for your lifestyle.
Stage IIIA and stage IIIB cancer are treated differently. “They’re both treated with the intent of curing the cancer, but in different ways,” says Dr. Gomez. “Patients with stage IIIA can have surgery, and patients with stage IIIB can have chemotherapy and radiation in an attempt again to cure the cancer, but the majority of those patients will not be cured.”
Stage IV lung cancer is widespread when it is diagnosed. There is no treatment that will cure stage IV lung cancer, but different treatments can reduce symptoms and help people with metastatic lung cancer live longer.
People with stage IV lung cancer can have one or more of the following treatments:
“Treatment that is being given [at stage IV] has the goal of prolonging the [patient’s] survival, meaning allowing the patient to live longer than they would if they did not have any therapy at all,” says Kevin Sullivan, MD, a lung oncologist at Monter Cancer Center, Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York.
“It also has the goal of palliation of their symptoms. They may be having symptoms related to their disease, and by palliating those symptoms or easing those symptoms, that can improve their quality of life,” says Dr. Sullivan.