Chemotherapy | American Lung Association

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Learn more: watch Dr. Edward Kim discuss the differences between traditional chemotherapy and targeted therapy.

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Key Points

  • Chemotherapy for lung cancer is used at different points in treatment to achieve different goals such as shrinking the tumor, killing any leftover cancer cells or relieving lung cancer symptoms.
  • Chemotherapy kills normal, healthy cells too, which causes side effects.
  • Help prepare for chemotherapy by learning what to expect and using this worksheet to stay organized.

Lung cancer chemotherapy can be the main type of treatment, or it can be used along with surgery, radiation therapy and/or immunotherapy. Sometimes lung cancer chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumor before other treatment. Sometimes it is used to kill any cancers cells that remain after the first treatment. It may also be used in later stages of the disease to relieve cancer symptoms.

Chemotherapy is usually given by intravenous (IV) line. The chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer is given in cycles. Each treatment period is followed by a recovery period.

Chemotherapy also can kill normal cells including blood, skin and nerve cells. When normal cells die, it can cause side effects. There is a special type of chemotherapy that targets certain mutations or markers in a cancer cell. This type of targeted therapy avoids healthy cells and reduces side effects. Talk to your doctor about tumor testing to see if you are eligible for a targeted therapy.

    PDF Download

    Chemotherapy Before, During, and After: A patient planning worksheet

    Webpage Resource

    Chemotherapy: What to Expect

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    Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 19, 2018.

    Page Last Updated: May 13, 2019

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