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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)

General Information About Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the lung.

The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped breathing organs in the chest. The lungs bring oxygen into the body as you breathe in. They release carbon dioxide, a waste product of the body’s cells, as you breathe out. Each lung has sections called lobes. The left lung has two lobes. The right lung is slightly larger and has three lobes. Two tubes called bronchi lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the right and left lungs. The bronchi are sometimes also involved in lung cancer. Tiny air sacs called alveoli and small tubes called bronchioles make up the inside of the lungs.

Respiratory anatomy; drawing shows right lung with upper, middle, and lower lobes; left lung with upper and lower lobes; and the trachea, bronchi, lymph nodes, and diaphragm. Inset shows bronchioles, alveoli, artery, and vein.
Anatomy of the respiratory system, showing the trachea and both lungs and their lobes and airways. Lymph nodes and the diaphragm are also shown. Oxygen is inhaled into the lungs and passes through the thin membranes of the alveoli and into the bloodstream (see inset).

A thin membrane called the pleura covers the outside of each lung and lines the inside wall of the chest cavity. This creates a sac called the pleural cavity. The pleural cavity normally contains a small amount of fluid that helps the lungs move smoothly in the chest when you breathe.

There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information about lung cancer:

There are several types of non-small cell lung cancer.

Each type of non-small cell lung cancer has different kinds of cancer cells. The cancer cells of each type grow and spread in different ways. The types of non-small cell lung cancer are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells look under a microscope:

Other less common types of non-small cell lung cancer are: pleomorphic, carcinoid tumor, salivary gland carcinoma, and unclassified carcinoma.

Smoking can increase the risk of developing non-small cell lung cancer.

Smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars is the most common cause of lung cancer. The earlier in life a person starts smoking, the more often a person smokes, and the more years a person smokes, the greater the risk. If a person has stopped smoking, the risk becomes lower as the years pass.

Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. Risk factors for lung cancer include the following:

  • Smoking cigarettes, pipes, or cigars, now or in the past.

  • Being exposed to second-hand smoke.

  • Being treated with radiation therapy to the breast or chest.

  • Being exposed to asbestos, radon, chromium, nickel, arsenic, soot, or tar.

  • Living where there is air pollution.

When smoking is combined with other risk factors, the risk of developing lung cancer is increased.

Possible signs of non-small cell lung cancer include a cough that doesn't go away and shortness of breath.

Sometimes lung cancer does not cause any symptoms and is found during a routine chest x-ray. Symptoms may be caused by lung cancer or by other conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away.

  • Trouble breathing.

  • Chest discomfort.

  • Wheezing.

  • Streaks of blood in sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs).

  • Hoarseness.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Weight loss for no known reason.

  • Feeling very tired.

Tests that examine the lungs are used to detect (find), diagnose, and stage non-small cell lung cancer.

Tests and procedures to detect, diagnose, and stage non-small cell lung cancer are often done at the same time. The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits, including smoking, and past jobs, illnesses, and treatments will also be taken.

  • Laboratory tests: Medical procedures that test samples of tissue, blood, urine, or other substances in the body. These tests help to diagnose disease, plan and check treatment, or monitor the disease over time.

  • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.

    Chest x-ray; drawing shows the patient standing with her back to the x-ray machine. X-rays are used to take pictures of organs and bones of the chest. X-rays pass through the patient onto film.
    X-ray of the chest. X-rays are used to take pictures of organs and bones of the chest. X-rays pass through the patient onto film.

  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the chest, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.

  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.

    PET (positron emission tomography) scan; drawing shows patient lying on table that slides through the PET machine.
    PET (positron emission tomography) scan. The patient lies on a table that slides through the PET machine. The head rest and white strap help the patient lie still. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into the patient's vein, and a scanner makes a picture of where the glucose is being used in the body. Cancer cells show up brighter in the picture because they take up more glucose than normal cells do.

  • Sputum cytology: A procedure in which a pathologist views a sample of sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs) under a microscope, to check for cancer cells.

  • Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy of the lung: The removal of tissue or fluid from the lung using a thin needle. A CT scan, ultrasound, or other imaging procedure is used to locate the abnormal tissue or fluid in the lung. A small incision may be made in the skin where the biopsy needle is inserted into the abnormal tissue or fluid. A sample is removed with the needle and sent to the laboratory. A pathologist then views the sample under a microscope to look for cancer cells. A chest x-ray is done after the procedure to make sure no air is leaking from the lung into the chest.

    Lung biopsy; drawing shows a patient lying on a table that slides through the computed tomography (CT) machine with an x-ray picture of a cross-section of the lung on a monitor above the patient. Drawing also shows a doctor using the x-ray picture to help place the biopsy needle through the chest wall and into the area of abnormal lung tissue. Inset shows a side view of the chest cavity and lungs with the biopsy needle inserted into the area of abnormal tissue.
    Lung biopsy. The patient lies on a table that slides through the computed tomography (CT) machine which takes x-ray pictures of the inside of the body. The x-ray pictures help the doctor see where the abnormal tissue is in the lung. A biopsy needle is inserted through the chest wall and into the area of abnormal lung tissue. A small piece of tissue is removed through the needle and checked under the microscope for signs of cancer.

  • Bronchoscopy: A procedure to look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas. A bronchoscope is inserted through the nose or mouth into the trachea and lungs. A bronchoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.

    Bronchoscopy; drawing shows a bronchoscope inserted through the mouth, trachea, and bronchus into the lung; lymph nodes along trachea and bronchi; and cancer in one lung. Inset shows patient lying on a table having a bronchoscopy.
    Bronchoscopy. A bronchoscope is inserted through the mouth, trachea, and major bronchi into the lung, to look for abnormal areas. A bronchoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a cutting tool. Tissue samples may be taken to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease.

  • Thoracoscopy: A surgical procedure to look at the organs inside the chest to check for abnormal areas. An incision (cut) is made between two ribs, and a thoracoscope is inserted into the chest. A thoracoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. In some cases, this procedure is used to remove part of the esophagus or lung. If certain tissues, organs, or lymph nodes can’t be reached, a thoracotomy may be done. In this procedure, a larger incision is made between the ribs and the chest is opened.

  • Thoracentesis: The removal of fluid from the space between the lining of the chest and the lung, using a needle. A pathologist views the fluid under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

  • Light and electron microscopy: A laboratory test in which cells in a sample of tissue are viewed under regular and high-powered microscopes to look for certain changes in the cells.

  • Immunohistochemistry study: A laboratory test in which a substance such as an antibody, dye, or radioisotope is added to a sample of cancer tissue to test for certain antigens. This type of study is used to tell the difference between different types of cancer.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer (the size of the tumor and whether it is in the lung only or has spread to other places in the body).

  • The type of lung cancer.

  • Whether there are symptoms such as coughing or trouble breathing.

  • The patient’s general health.

For most patients with non-small cell lung cancer, current treatments do not cure the cancer.

If lung cancer is found, taking part in one of the many clinical trials being done to improve treatment should be considered. Clinical trials are taking place in most parts of the country for patients with all stages of non-small cell lung cancer. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.


Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

After lung cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the lungs or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the lungs or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. Some of the tests used to diagnose non-small cell lung cancer are also used to stage the disease. (See the General Information section.) Other tests and procedures that may be used in the staging process include the following:

  • Laboratory tests: Medical procedures that test samples of tissue, blood, urine, or other substances in the body. These tests help to diagnose disease, plan and check treatment, or monitor the disease over time.

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the brain. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).

  • Radionuclide bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner.

  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): A procedure in which an endoscope is inserted into the body. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. A probe at the end of the endoscope is used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. This procedure is also called endosonography. EUS may be used to guide fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy of the lung, lymph nodes, or other areas.

    Endoscopic ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration biopsy; drawing shows an endoscope with an ultrasound probe and biopsy needle inserted through the mouth and into the esophagus. Drawing also shows lymph nodes near the esophagus and cancer in one lung. Inset shows the ultrasound probe locating the lymph nodes with cancer and the biopsy needle removing tissue from one of the lymph nodes near the esophagus.
    Endoscopic ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration biopsy. An endoscope that has an ultrasound probe and a biopsy needle is inserted through the mouth and into the esophagus. The probe bounces sound waves off body tissues to make echoes that form a sonogram (computer picture) of the lymph nodes near the esophagus. The sonogram helps the doctor see where to place the biopsy needle to remove tissue from the lymph nodes. This tissue is checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.

  • Lymph node biopsy: The removal of all or part of a lymph node. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells.

  • Mediastinoscopy: A surgical procedure to look at the organs, tissues, and lymph nodes between the lungs for abnormal areas. An incision (cut) is made at the top of the breastbone and a mediastinoscope is inserted into the chest. A mediastinoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.

    Mediastinoscopy; shows mediastinoscope with light and lens inserted into the chest through an incision above the breastbone. Drawing shows right and left lungs, trachea, and lymph nodes. Inset shows anterior mediastinotomy (Chamberlain procedure) with incision beside the breastbone.
    Mediastinoscopy. A mediastinoscope is inserted into the chest through an incision above the breastbone to look for abnormal areas between the lungs. A mediastinoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a cutting tool. Tissue samples may be taken from lymph nodes on the right side of the chest and checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. In an anterior mediastinotomy (Chamberlain procedure), the incision is made beside the breastbone to remove tissue samples from the lymph nodes on the left side of the chest.

  • Anterior mediastinotomy: A surgical procedure to look at the organs and tissues between the lungs and between the breastbone and heart for abnormal areas. An incision (cut) is made next to the breastbone and a mediastinoscope is inserted into the chest. A mediastinoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. This is also called the Chamberlain procedure.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

The three ways that cancer spreads in the body are:

  • Through tissue. Cancer invades the surrounding normal tissue.

  • Through the lymph system. Cancer invades the lymph system and travels through the lymph vessels to other places in the body.

  • Through the blood. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.

When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.

The following stages are used for non-small cell lung cancer:

Occult (hidden) stage

In the occult (hidden) stage, cancer cells are found in sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs), but no tumor can be found in the lung by imaging or bronchoscopy, or the primary tumor is too small to be checked.

Stage 0 (Carcinoma in Situ)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the innermost lining of the lung. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.

Stage I

Two-panel drawing of stage I non-small cell lung cancer; first panel shows stage IA with cancer in one lung; the trachea, lungs, lymph nodes, right main bronchus, bronchioles, and diaphragm are also shown; second panel shows stage IB with cancer in the left lung and near the left main bronchus. The inset shows a close-up of the lung, chest wall, and pleura with cancer spreading from the lung into the innermost layer of the pleura.
Stage I non-small cell lung cancer. In stage IA, cancer is in the lung only. In stage IB, the cancer may do one or more of the following: (a) grow larger in the lung, (b) spread to the main bronchus of the lung, (c) spread to the innermost layer of the pleura that covers the lungs.

In stage I, cancer has formed. Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB:

Stage II

Two-panel drawing of stage II non-small cell lung cancer; first panel shows stage IIA with cancer in one lung and cancer in several nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest; the right main bronchus is also shown; second panel shows stage IIB with cancer in the chest wall, the diaphragm, the pleura between the lungs, and in the left main bronchus; the trachea, carina, and bronchioles are also shown; One inset shows a close up of cancer spreading from the lung into the pleura and chest wall; another inset shows a close up of cancer spreading from the lung into the pericardium (membrane around the heart).
Stage II non-small cell lung cancer. In stage IIA, cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the cancer. In stage IIB, cancer is either the same as in stage IB and has also spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest; or cancer has not spread to lymph nodes but has spread to one or more of the following: (a) the chest wall, (b) the diaphragm, (c) the pleura between the lungs, (d) the membrane around the heart, and/or (e) the main bronchus.

Stage II is divided into stages IIA and IIB:

  • Stage IIA: The tumor is 3 centimeters or smaller and cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the tumor.

  • Stage IIB:

    • Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the tumor and one or more of the following is true:

      • The tumor is larger than 3 centimeters.

      • Cancer has spread to the main bronchus of the lung and is 2 centimeters or more from the carina (where the trachea joins the bronchi).

      • Cancer has spread to the innermost layer of the membrane that covers the lungs.

      • The tumor partly blocks the bronchus or bronchioles and part of the lung has collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung).

      or

    • Cancer has not spread to lymph nodes and one or more of the following is true:

      • The tumor may be any size and cancer has spread to the chest wall, or the diaphragm, or the pleura between the lungs, or membranes surrounding the heart.

      • Cancer has spread to the main bronchus of the lung and is no more than 2 centimeters from the carina (where the trachea meets the bronchi), but has not spread to the trachea.

      • Cancer blocks the bronchus or bronchioles and the whole lung has collapsed or developed pneumonitis (inflammation of the lung).

Stage IIIA

Stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer; drawing shows cancer in the lymph nodes, the left main bronchus, pleura, diaphragm, and chest wall. One inset shows a close up of cancer spreading from the lung into the pleura and chest wall; another inset shows a close up of cancer spreading from the lung into the pericardium (membrane around the heart).
Stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer. The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the cancer. It may also spread to one or more of the following: (a) the main bronchus, (b) the chest wall, (c) the diaphragm, (d) the pleura between the lungs, and/or (e) the pericardium (membrane around the heart).

In stage IIIA, cancer has spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the tumor. Also:

Stage IIIB

Stage IIIB non-small cell lung cancer; drawing shows cancer in the lymph nodes above the collarbone or lymph nodes in the opposite side of the chest from the cancer; also shows cancer in the trachea, left main bronchus, esophagus, sternum, diaphragm, inferior vena cava, aorta, heart, and chest wall. One inset shows a close-up of cancer spreading from the lung into the pleura and chest wall; another inset shows a close-up of cancer spreading from the lung into the pericardium (membrane around the heart) and the heart.
Stage IIIB non-small cell lung cancer. The cancer has spread to (a) lymph nodes above the collarbone or lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest from the cancer, and/or it may also spread to one or more of the following: (b) the heart, (c) the inferior vena cava and the aorta, (d) the chest wall, (e) the diaphragm, (f) the trachea, and (g) the sternum or esophagus. Cancer may also spread to the fluid between the pleura (thin layers of tissue lining the lungs and chest cavity).

In stage IIIB, the tumor may be any size and has spread:

Stage IV

Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer; drawing shows parts of the body where cancer may spread from the lung where it started, including another lobe of the same lung, the other lung, the brain, lymph nodes, adrenal gland, liver, kidney, and bone; inset shows close-up of cancer spreading through the blood and lymph to other parts of the body.
Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. The cancer has spread to another lobe of the same lung, to the other lung, and/or to one or more other parts of the body.

In stage IV, cancer may have spread to lymph nodes and has spread to another lobe of the lungs or to other parts of the body, such as the brain, liver, adrenal glands, kidneys, or bone.


Recurrent Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Recurrent non-small cell lung cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the brain, lung, or other parts of the body.


Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with non-small cell lung cancer.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Nine types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Four types of surgery are used:

  • Wedge resection: Surgery to remove a tumor and some of the normal tissue around it. When a slightly larger amount of tissue is taken, it is called a segmental resection.

    Wedge resection of the lung; shows trachea and lungs with cancer in a lung lobe. The removed lung tissue with the cancer and small amount of healthy tissue around it is shown next to the lung lobe it was removed from.
    Wedge resection of the lung. Part of the lung lobe containing the cancer and a small amount of healthy tissue around it is removed.

  • Lobectomy: Surgery to remove a whole lobe (section) of the lung.

    Lobectomy; drawing shows lobes of both lungs, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, and lymph nodes. Cancer is shown in one lobe. The removed lobe is shown next to the lung from which it was removed.
    Lobectomy. A lobe of the lung is removed.

  • Pneumonectomy: Surgery to remove one whole lung.

    Pneumonectomy; drawing shows the trachea, lymph nodes, and lungs, with cancer in one lung. The removed lung with the cancer is shown.
    Pneumonectomy. The whole lung is removed.

  • Sleeve resection: Surgery to remove part of the bronchus.

Even if the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to increase the chances of a cure, is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.

Radiosurgery is a method of delivering radiation directly to the tumor with little damage to healthy tissue. It does not involve surgery and may be used to treat certain tumors in patients who cannot have surgery.

The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Biologic therapy

Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy.

Laser therapy

Laser therapy is a cancer treatment that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) to kill cancer cells.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a cancer treatment that uses a drug and a certain type of laser light to kill cancer cells. A drug that is not active until it is exposed to light is injected into a vein. The drug collects more in cancer cells than in normal cells. Fiberoptic tubes are then used to carry the laser light to the cancer cells, where the drug becomes active and kills the cells. Photodynamic therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue. It is used mainly to treat tumors on or just under the skin or in the lining of internal organs.

Cryosurgery

Cryosurgery is a treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue, such as carcinoma in situ. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy.

Electrocautery

Electrocautery is a treatment that uses a probe or needle heated by an electric current to destroy abnormal tissue.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until symptoms appear or change. This may be done in certain rare cases of non-small cell lung cancer.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Chemoprevention

Chemoprevention is the use of drugs, vitamins, or other substances to reduce the risk of developing cancer or to reduce the risk cancer will recur (come back).

New combinations

New combinations of treatments are being studied in clinical trials.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's clinical trials database.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.


Treatment Options by Stage

A link to a list of current clinical trials is included for each treatment section. For some types or stages of cancer, there may not be any trials listed. Check with your doctor for clinical trials that are not listed here but may be right for you.

Occult Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Treatment of occult non-small cell lung cancer depends on where the cancer has spread. It can usually be cured by surgery.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with occult non-small cell lung cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Stage 0 (Carcinoma in Situ)

Treatment of stage 0 may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage 0 non-small cell lung cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Stage I Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Treatment of stage I non-small cell lung cancer may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage I non-small cell lung cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Stage II Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Treatment of stage II non-small cell lung cancer may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage II non-small cell lung cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Stage IIIA Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Treatment of stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer that can be removed with surgery may include the following:

Treatment of stage IIIA non-small cell lung cancer that cannot be removed with surgery may include the following:

For more information about supportive care for symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain, see the PDQ summary on Cardiopulmonary Syndromes.

Non-small cell lung cancer of the superior sulcus, often called Pancoast tumor, begins in the upper part of the lung and spreads to nearby tissues such as the ribs and vertebrae. Treatment of Pancoast tumors may include the following:

  • Radiation therapy alone.

  • Radiation therapy and surgery.

  • Surgery alone.

  • Chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy and surgery.

  • A clinical trial of new combinations of treatments.

Some stage IIIA non-small cell lung tumors that have grown into the chest wall may be completely removed. Treatment of chest wall tumors may include the following:

  • Surgery.

  • Surgery and radiation therapy.

  • Radiation therapy alone.

  • Chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy and/or surgery.

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Stage IIIB Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Treatment of stage IIIB non-small cell lung cancer may include the following:

For more information about supportive care for symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain, see the following PDQ summaries:

  • Cardiopulmonary Syndromes

  • Pain

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Treatment of stage IV non-small cell lung cancer may include the following:

For more information about supportive care for symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain, see the following PDQ summaries:

  • Cardiopulmonary Syndromes

  • Pain

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.


Treatment Options for Recurrent Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Treatment of recurrent non-small cell lung cancer may include the following:

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's PDQ Cancer Clinical Trials Registry that are now accepting patients with recurrent non-small cell lung cancer. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.


To Learn More About Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

For more information from the National Cancer Institute about non-small cell lung cancer, see the following:

  • Lung Cancer Home Page

  • What You Need To Know About™ Lung Cancer

  • Lung Cancer Prevention

  • Lung Cancer Screening

  • Smoking and Cancer Home Page (Includes help with quitting)

  • Secondhand Smoke: Questions and Answers

  • Photodynamic Therapy for Cancer: Questions and Answers

  • Lasers in Cancer Treatment: Questions and Answers

For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:

  • What You Need to Know About™ Cancer - An Overview

  • Understanding Cancer Series: Cancer

  • Staging: Questions and Answers

  • Chemotherapy and You: Support for People With Cancer

  • Radiation Therapy and You: Support for People With Cancer

  • Coping with Cancer: Supportive and Palliative Care

  • Cancer Library

  • Information For Survivors/Caregivers/Advocates


Get More Information From NCI

Call 1-800-4-CANCER

For more information, U.S. residents may call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A trained Cancer Information Specialist is available to answer your questions.

Chat online

The NCI's LiveHelp® online chat service provides Internet users with the ability to chat online with an Information Specialist. The service is available from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Information Specialists can help Internet users find information on NCI Web sites and answer questions about cancer.

Write to us

For more information from the NCI, please write to this address:

  • NCI Public Inquiries Office

  • Suite 3036A

  • 6116 Executive Boulevard, MSC8322

  • Bethesda, MD 20892-8322

Search the NCI Web site

The NCI Web site provides online access to information on cancer, clinical trials, and other Web sites and organizations that offer support and resources for cancer patients and their families. For a quick search, use the search box in the upper right corner of each Web page. The results for a wide range of search terms will include a list of "Best Bets," editorially chosen Web pages that are most closely related to the search term entered.

There are also many other places to get materials and information about cancer treatment and services. Hospitals in your area may have information about local and regional agencies that have information on finances, getting to and from treatment, receiving care at home, and dealing with problems related to cancer treatment.

Find Publications

The NCI has booklets and other materials for patients, health professionals, and the public. These publications discuss types of cancer, methods of cancer treatment, coping with cancer, and clinical trials. Some publications provide information on tests for cancer, cancer causes and prevention, cancer statistics, and NCI research activities. NCI materials on these and other topics may be ordered online or printed directly from the NCI Publications Locator. These materials can also be ordered by telephone from the Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).


Changes to This Summary (07/02/2009)

The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.

Changes were made to this summary to match those made to the health professional version.


About PDQ

PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on NCI's Web site.

PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.

PDQ contains cancer information summaries.

The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.

The PDQ cancer information summaries are developed by cancer experts and reviewed regularly.

Editorial Boards made up of experts in oncology and related specialties are responsible for writing and maintaining the cancer information summaries. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made as new information becomes available. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") indicates the time of the most recent change.

PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.

A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Listings of clinical trials are included in PDQ and are available online at NCI's Web site. Descriptions of the trials are available in health professional and patient versions. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).