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.
- 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.
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.
Page last updated: November 17, 2022