Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer
- There are different types of radiation for lung cancer. All types kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
- Sometimes radiation is used to relieve lung cancer symptoms.
- Prepare for radiation by learning what you can expect and using this worksheet to stay organized.
Lung cancer radiation therapy uses powerful, high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Radiation may come from outside the body (external) or from radioactive materials placed directly inside the lung cancer tumor (internal/implant). External radiation is used most often. The radiation is aimed at the lung cancer tumor and kills the cancer cells only in that area of the lungs.
Radiation can be used before lung cancer surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill any cancer cells left in the lungs. Sometimes external radiation is used as the main type of lung cancer treatment. This is often the case for people who may not be healthy enough to have surgery or whose cancer has spread too far to have surgery. Radiation therapy for lung cancer also can be used to relieve symptoms caused by the cancer, such as pain, bleeding or blockage of airways by the tumor.
Sometimes patients with small cell lung cancer (SCLC) will get radiation to the brain. This helps to lower the chances of the lung cancer spreading to the brain, which is common in SCLC. This is called prophylactic cranial irradiation.
Doctors use several different radiation techniques to administer therapy.
Radiation Techniques for Lung Cancer
- External beam radiation (external beam)
- Brachytherapy (internal or implant radiation therapy)
- Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) / Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR)
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)
Possible Side Effects of Radiation
- Mild skin reactions
- Sore throat
- Painful swallowing
- Learn how to cope with side effects »
*Side effects vary based on where the radiation field is located
Discuss concerns, possible side effects and any effects that you experience with your doctor. Download a list of suggested questions.
Radiation: What to ExpectLearn more
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 19, 2018.
Page Last Updated: November 20, 2018
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