Radiation therapy kills cancer cells using high-energy rays or particles. It may be used as the main treatment for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) when the cancer can’t be removed surgically. It may be used before a surgery to shrink a tumor to make it easier to remove or after a surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy is also sometimes used to reduce the symptoms of advanced NSCLC. It is often used as the primary method of treatment for small cell lung cancer. Radiation therapy may be used to prevent cancer from spreading to the brain.
What does it involve?
The two types of radiation commonly used for lung cancer are external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy, or internal radiation therapy.
External beam radiation therapy is more common. A computer may be used to guide the beams toward the tumor. Each treatment session takes only a few minutes, and people usually have sessions five days a week for five to seven weeks. External beam radiation therapy that is more closely directed at the tumor may require fewer treatment sessions.
Brachytherapy is most often used to shrink tumors in airways. A physician will place a source of radiation, usually radioactive pellets, next to or inside the tumor. The radiation emitted is not as strong as external beams and will not travel through the body far outside the tumor. The pellets may be removed after several weeks or may become progressively weaker, allowing them to remain in the body safely. Brachytherapy is most often used for NSCLC.
Common side effects of radiation therapy include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, weight loss, loss of appetite, damage to the lungs or esophagus, and skin changes where the radiation is administered.
For more details about this treatment, visit:
Radiation Therapy for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer — American Cancer Society
Radiation Therapy for Small Cell Lung Cancer — American Cancer Society