Chemotherapy for Lung Cancer

Chemotherapy is a type of treatment that uses medicine to stop the growth of cancer cells.

Chemotherapy for lung cancer is used at different points in treatment to achieve different goals such as shrinking or stabilizing the tumor, killing leftover cancer cells after surgery or relieving lung cancer symptoms.

What to Expect

Lung cancer treatment can be stressful. Knowing what to expect from chemotherapy can help ease that stress.

Speaker 1: When facing lung cancer your doctor might recommend chemotherapy. Knowing what to expect can help ease some of the anxiety that comes with cancer treatment. Every person's journey is different so be sure to speak with your doctor if you have any questions. Before starting chemo your doctor will tell you what chemo will be like and put together a personalized treatment plan. Chemo is often administered in cycles, giving you time off between sessions to recover. Ask your doctor for guidelines on what to eat or drink before treatment and for medications to ease potential side effects. You might also want to consider visiting a dentist to prepare for possible side effects involving your mouth and gums, arranging transportation to and from chemo, getting help with errands, taking time off work and finding out what is offered in your treatment room so you know what you need to bring to keep you comfortable.

During chemo, chemo drugs are given orally or intravenously. For oral chemo, simply pick up your medication from the pharmacy. For more information talk to your doctor or pharmacist. For intravenous chemo an IV will be inserted into your arm. You may choose to have a port inserted ahead of time to eliminate the need to find a vein each session. On treatment day your doctor will likely perform a physical to calculate your chemo dosage and ensure you are healthy enough for treatment. Remember to bring activities to help pass the time while you are receiving your chemo. After chemo the IV catheter will be removed and your vitals checked. If you have a port it will stay in for the rest of your sessions. Talk to your doctor about any side effects you are experiencing. Your care team may be able to provide medications or therapies that can help ease your side effects.

If possible, avoid crowds or children to help prevent infection. Drink fluids to help flush the drugs through your body. Carefully dispose of your waste. Double-flush the toilet to prevent others from being exposed to chemo agents. Every person's recovery time and experience is different but focusing on ones well-being is important for every person going through treatment. That includes getting the supportive care you need to help you with your recovery, leaning on others for support so you can rest, and keeping in touch with your doctor throughout the process. Knowledge is power. By being proactive during your treatment you put the power in your own hands.

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Key Points

  • Chemotherapy can be used to achieve different goals during lung cancer treatment.
  • Chemotherapy can affect normal, healthy cells too, which can cause side effects.
  • Help prepare for chemotherapy by watching the What to Expect video above 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, immunotherapy and/or anti-angiogenesis drugs (which cut off blood flow to the cancer cells to keep them from growing). 

Sometimes lung cancer chemotherapy is used to shrink the tumor before surgery. This is called preoperative or neoadjuvant chemotherapy. Sometimes it is used to kill any cancers cells that remain after surgery. It may also be used more advanced stages of the disease when surgery is not an option. In this setting, the chemotherapy is given to stabilize the cancer and to relieve cancer-related symptoms.

Chemotherapy is usually given through the veins (intravenously or IV). Lung cancer chemotherapy is given in a clinical setting over several hours and does not require staying overnight in the hospital. Chemotherapy for lung cancer is given in cycles which typically last three weeks. Depending on the chemotherapy regimen that your doctor selects based on your specific type of lung cancer, chemotherapy may be given just once during the three-week cycle or in some cases, it may be given weekly. 

Chemotherapy can also affect normal cells including blood, skin and nerve cells. When normal cells are injured, it can cause side effects. It is important to work closely with your care team to manage your side effects. Ask about consulting with a palliative or supportive care doctor whose specialty is side-effect management. 

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

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Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: October 28, 2021

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