Treatment gets more challenging as the lung cancer progresses.
If you have a history of smoking and are between 55 and 80 years old, your doctor may recommend a lung cancer screening. A lung cancer screening can help catch cancer before symptoms appear. Treatment is easier and more effective at early stages, which is why diagnosing lung cancer early is so important.
Treating Early Stages
When you catch lung cancer at an early stage, treatment is often easier. That’s because the cancer hasn’t spread. It is often limited to one part of one lung, and it has not spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
Because of this, doctors can treat and even “cure” early stages of lung cancer with surgery. Surgeons can safely remove part of a lung to get rid of the cancer. Cancer that can be removed with surgery is known as resectable cancer.
One way to catch lung cancer early is by recognizing symptoms. Unfortunately, symptoms do not typically start until the lung cancer has already progressed to a more advanced stage. That said, it is possible to have symptoms at an early stage, including:
- Coughing and wheezing
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
- Chest pain that gets worse when coughing or deep breathing
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Fatigue and weakness
- Recurring infections like bronchitis and pneumonia
Treating Advanced Stages
Once lung cancer progresses and begins to spread, it becomes less realistic that you can treat the cancer with surgery alone. Because the cancer cells have started to spread in the body (known as metastasis), doctors usually recommend systemic treatments instead. Learn more about treating lung cancer by stage here.
Systemic treatments are cancer therapies that work throughout the entire body (as opposed to a tumor in one specific location) to target cancer cells. For example, systemic treatments for advanced lung cancer include:
Systemic treatments can be very helpful at controlling the spread of cancer and reducing the amount of cancer cells in the body. However, the goal of treatment for advanced lung cancer is less about “curing” the cancer, and more about controlling the cancer and helping people live longer lives.
Diagnosing Lung Cancer Early
The earlier you catch lung cancer, the quicker you can start treatment and stop the progression. Cancer in a limited location is often easier to treat, and more likely to result in remission.
Lung cancer screening isn’t for everyone. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about lung cancer, or if you think you are having lung cancer symptoms.
Stefan Balan, MD, is an oncologist at RWJBarnabas Health in Jersey City, NJ.
- Can lung cancer be found early? Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on January 19, 2021)
- Signs and symptoms of lung cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. (Accessed on January 19, 2021)
- Who should be screened for lung cancer? Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on January 19, 2021)