Depending on the stage of your cancer, there are different treatment options available. Your treatment team will work with you to find the treatment that is right for you. A type of doctor that may be on your treatment team is a medical oncologist, who specializes in treating cancer. If a medical oncologist is not already on your treatment team, talk to your doctor about if you should see one.

Surgery to remove lung cancer tumor

The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor from the body. It works best for solid tumors that are contained in one area. Surgery to remove some of the tumor can also be used to help other treatments work better or to help relieve symptoms, like pain or pressure.

Chemotherapy is often given as an infusion

How it’s given: Chemotherapy is given as an infusion into the bloodstream. Because blood travels throughout the body, it allows the treatment to travel anywhere in the body that the cancer has spread. Although chemotherapy is often given through an infusion, it can also be given other ways.

Typically, chemotherapy is given in cycles, with 1 to 3 days of treatment, followed by a rest period to help the body recover. Chemotherapy cycles may happen for 3 to 4 weeks.

How chemotherapy works

How it works: Chemotherapy attacks all fast-growing cells to get at cancer cells. But that can cause certain side effects. These include:

  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Diarrhea
Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy aims radiation at cancer from outside the body

How it’s given: Radiation therapy uses a machine that aims radiation at cancer from outside the body. It can feel similar to getting an x-ray—it is painless and lasts only a few minutes. Radiation is usually given 5 days a week, for up to 5 to 7 weeks.

How radiation therapy works

How it works: Radiation therapy targets DNA in cancer cells to keep them from growing. Radiation can cause side effects that are similar to those of chemotherapy. But for lung cancer, radiation to the chest can cause additional side effects. These include:

  • Skin changes to the area being treated, like redness and peeling
  • Cough
  • Problems breathing
  • Shortness of breath
What is chemoradiation?

If surgery is not an option, chemotherapy in combination with radiation may be your first step in treatment. This is known as “chemoradiation therapy” or CRT.

How long will I stay on CRT?

Typically, CRT is given for 6 to 7 weeks, but depending on how you receive it, it could be longer or shorter. You can receive CRT either "sequentially" or "concurrently." Your doctor will determine the best approach to CRT for you and how long you will receive it. There is a chance you may only receive chemotherapy or radiation alone.

  • "Sequentially" means you will complete chemotherapy before starting radiation
  • "Concurrently" means you will receive chemotherapy and radiation during the same time period.
Keep in mind

When starting any new treatment, it’s normal to think about side effects. That’s why it’s important to ask your treatment team what to expect and make sure to talk to them if you have any side effects.

  • If you do experience side effects from treatment, talking to your treatment team is the best way to find out how to manage them
  • Even if you aren’t sure if what you are experiencing is a side effect of treatment, it may be helpful to write it down and ask your treatment team at your next appointment
  • If you’re experiencing pain or other side effects, ask your treatment team if you’re eligible for palliative care. A palliative care team may be able to help provide relief from side effects
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What happens   After TREATMENT?

If surgery is your first treatment, it may be the only treatment you need. But it is also very common to also have other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation. Your treatment team will decide what is right for you.

After chemotherapy, radiation, or CRT, your doctor may prescribe additional treatment and will monitor you every 3 to 6 months. During this time, he or she will start running periodic scans and tests. You may feel some anxiety, or as some patients call it, “scanxiety,” when you go in for the scan or when you’re waiting for the results. So try to do what you can to stay busy. Make plans with your family and friends. You may want to take steps to get back to doing some of your favorite activities.

If you've completed or almost finished treatment, you may feel different emotions. It's a big milestone, and you may feel relieved. Keep the lines of communication open with your treatment team. There may be potential treatment options available. Learn more

Use the “+” sign to learn more about each of these ways to help you live well with stage 3 lung cancer.

Staying healthy

Treatment may take a lot out of you. Or you may find that you don’t experience any side effects. Either way, take some steps to stay healthy. Do what you can to recover and build up your immune system. That way, you’ll be ready to discuss potential treatment options with your doctor. Listen to your body and ease back into your routines.
And be sure to talk to your treatment team before you start anything new.

Low-impact exercise can help make a difference

Even if you feel tired, low-impact exercise like walking may help you feel a little better. Walk with a friend or loved one, starting with 5 to 10 minutes a day—a little exercise may go a long way. In fact, the latest research shows that exercise during cancer treatment can reduce symptoms, relieve anxiety, boost self-esteem, and improve quality of life.

Examples of low-impact exercise include:

  • Walking around the block or to the mailbox
  • Simple stretching
  • Lifting light weights at home (for example, 2-pound weights, a can of soup, or a bag of flour)
  • Deep breathing exercises
For more self-care tips, sign up for Live W.E.L.L. (Ways to Empower Living with Lung Cancer). And remember to always consult your treatment team before beginning any kind of exercise program.

Taking care of your lungs, a few minutes a day

Breathing exercises can help strengthen your lungs and provide relaxation. Depending on where you are in your recovery, you may want to start very slowly, as breathing deeply may be a little painful at first. When you’re ready, try this 4-step breathing exercise. It may be done either sitting up or lying down.
  • Take a deep breath from your diaphragm (this is the muscle between your lungs and abdomen).
  • Hold the breath for several seconds-–however long is comfortable for you-–and then exhale slowly.
  • Repeat steps 1 and 2, two more times.
  • Afterward, relax for a moment and let yourself feel the experience of being calm.
If you experience any pain, be sure to tell your treatment team.

Quitting smoking

If you’re still smoking, it’s important to try to quit. And if you don’t succeed on the first or second try, keep trying. Most people make several attempts before they can quit for good.
Here are some resources that you may find helpful.

Taking time to relax

During treatment, some days you may not have a lot of energy, and that’s okay. If you’re feeling this way, it’s important to take things slow. Take some time to relax by putting on a movie or your favorite TV show. Or try reading a book or magazine.

It’s important to listen to your body. If you are feeling tired, it’s okay to sleep. You can also try to save your energy for important activities. Take short naps that are no longer than an hour throughout the day instead of one long period. Drinking fluids and eating well can also help maintain your energy.

Eating and your weight

During or after treatment, you may find that your appetite has changed. Maybe you’re not hungry, or you find yourself eating small meals. It’s important to remember that while those changes may be normal, your body needs calories to act as fuel. Some people find it easier to drink their calories and have a milkshake or a protein shake with some fruit, while other people find that scrambled eggs are easier for them to eat. Work with your treatment team to find something that will give you the right amount of calories.
Helpful nutritional tips:
  • Increase protein and calories to support healing, fight infection, and increase energy
  • Find a high-calorie protein shake that you’ll want to drink every day
  • Maintain your weight and keep up your strength with a nutritious, healthy diet
It has been shown that following an exercise and nutrition program may be beneficial for people with stage 3 lung cancer. It can help you improve physical strength and even improve daily function.
Be sure to talk to your treatment team before making any changes to your diet or before starting an exercise program.