Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Treatment by Type

Treatment for lung cancer is determined by several factors, including the type of lung cancer, the stage of the disease, and the overall health of the patient. Most lung cancers are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which makes up approximately 85% of all lung cancers. Subtypes of NSCLC include adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma, adenosquamous carcinoma, sarcomatoid carcinoma, and carcinoma of salivary gland type. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) makes up about 15% of all lung cancers. Less than 5% of all lung cancers are lung carcinoid tumors.1-3

Treatment for non-small cell lung cancer

There are several different treatment modalities for NSCLC, although not all are appropriate for every patient. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery – removal of the tumor, which may include removing a portion or all of a lung
  • Radiation therapy – the use of high-energy rays targeted on the cancer
  • Chemotherapy – the use of drugs to kill cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy – a class of drugs that focuses on specific genetic mutations present in the tumor cells
  • Immunotherapy – a class of drugs that boosts the patient’s immune system to find and destroy cancer cells 4

Treatment for small cell lung cancer

Chemotherapy is almost always recommended for SCLC, regardless of the stage, as SCLC is very responsive to chemotherapy as compared to other cell types of lung cancer. Chemotherapy can improve the survival for patients with SCLC but it is rarely curative. Because of the aggressive nature of SCLC, many patients develop metastases (spread of the cancer to other parts of the body).1-3

Besides chemotherapy, treatment recommendations are made based on the stage of the disease and may include radiation or surgery. SCLC is highly sensitive to radiation, and radiation therapy can improve survival rates. Surgery is rarely used in SCLC but may be recommended in cases where the cancer is contained to one lung and the adjacent lymph nodes. Immunotherapy may also be an option for certain patients with SCLC.1-3

Treatment for lung carcinoid tumors

Treatment for lung carcinoid tumors can include surgery, chemotherapy, other drug treatments, and radiation therapy. These treatment options may be used in combination, depending on the extent of the disease.3

Palliative care and complementary therapies

In addition to the treatments of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, palliative care that does not treat the cancer itself, but aims to improve quality of life is done concurrently with other treatment. Palliative care may include pain management or help with physical or emotional symptoms.4

Many patients with lung cancer also find complementary therapies helpful. Complementary medicine includes practices that are used in combination with traditional medicine, such as dietary supplements, massage, acupuncture, and hypnosis.4

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: January 2020.
  1. National Cancer Institute. Accessed online on 8/4/16 at
  2. Medscape. Accessed online on 8/4/16 at
  3. American Cancer Society. Accessed online on 8/4/16 at
  4. NCCN Guidelines for Patients. Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. Version 1.2015. Accessed April 11, 2016 at: