The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on June 28, 2021.

Lung cancer treatments

We target lung tumors with a wide variety of lung cancer treatments and technologies, including, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, interventional pulmonology, radiation therapy, surgery and targeted therapy. Your lung cancer treatment team will answer your questions and recommend treatment options based on your individual needs.

The type of treatment a patient receives for lung cancer may depend on the type of lung cancer and whether the disease has metastasized (spread) to distant to distant organs. The types of lung cancer and their treatments include:

Small cell lung cancer: This type of lung cancer may be aggressive and may require immediate treatment. Treatments for small cell lung cancer include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
Non-small cell lung cancer: This is the most common form of lung cancer. Treatments for non-small cell lung cancer include:
  • Chemotherapy
  • Cryotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy

Metastatic lung cancer: In general, metastatic cancers are treated based on which part of the body the cancer first formed, so metastatic lung cancer is often treated as an advanced form of the disease, even if it spread to distant parts of the body. Immunotherapy and targeted therapy may be recommended to treat metastatic lung cancer. Other treatment options may depend on where the cancer has spread. For instance:

  • Options for brain metastases include radiation therapy, chemotherapy and/or steroids.
  • If the cancer has spread to the bone, radiation therapy or targeted therapy may be recommended.

Types of lung cancer treatments include:


Lung cancer chemotherapy treatments are used in three primary ways:

  • Neoadjuvant or primary systemic lung cancer chemotherapy may be used before surgery to destroy cancer cells. It also allows the oncologist to determine the effect of a particular lung cancer treatment regimen on the tumor.
  • Adjuvant chemotherapy is a type of lung cancer treatment used after surgery or radiation to target cancer cells that were not removed during lung cancer surgery, and helps prevent the cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.
  • Systemic chemotherapy, meaning the circulation of chemotherapy drugs through the bloodstream to cancer cells through the body, plays an important role in the treatment of locally advanced or metastatic lung cancer.

Throughout your lung cancer treatment, your care team will continually monitor the impact of chemotherapy on the disease, with physical exams, blood tests and imaging.


Immunotherapy is designed to stimulate the body’s immune system to attack and kill cancer cells. Checkpoint inhibitors, a form of immunotherapy, work by blocking signaling proteins that allow cancer cells to hide from the immune system. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved certain immunotherapy and checkpoint inhibitor drugs to treat specific cases of lung cancer. The drugs may be used alone or in combination with other therapies, such as surgery or chemotherapy.

Interventional pulmonology

Interventional pulmonology addresses four primary areas: central airway obstruction, advanced airway diagnostics, pleural effusion and treatment-related side effects. 

Radiation therapy

We offer two primary types of radiation therapy lung cancer:

  • External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) delivers high doses of radiation to lung cancer cells from outside the body, using a variety of machine-based technologies.
  • High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy (internal radiation) delivers high doses of radiation from implants placed close to, or inside, the tumor(s) in the body. 


In a thoracotomy, the surgeon opens up the chest cavity to gain access to the lungs. An incision is made in the side of the chest, and the ribs are spread apart, allowing the surgeon to remove cancerous tissue from the lungs. Various approaches may be used to perform these surgical procedures, including:

Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS): VATS is a minimally invasive technology used to perform a lobectomy or wedge resection without opening the chest. This thoracotomy procedure involves inserting a long, thin tube with an attached camera (thoracoscope) and small surgical instruments into the chest. Using images taken by the camera, the surgeon removes portions of the lung that contain cancerous tissue. VATS typically offers a quicker recovery time and less pain than other types of lung surgery, because no large incision or movement of the ribs is needed. VATS also may be used to biopsy lung tissue and confirm a lung cancer diagnosis. This type of procedure is called a diagnostic thoracoscopy.

Robotic-assisted thoracic surgery: Robotic surgery is another minimally invasive approach to treating lung cancer. The instruments have greater ranges of motion, allowing for more precise movements. The recovery time and pain levels are similar to those resulting from VATS.

Our surgeons perform four types of surgery to treat lung cancer:

Wedge resection: This procedure is used to remove cancerous tissue from the lung, typically in diagnosing or treating metastasis.

Segmentectomy: This surgery is designed to remove cancerous tissue from a lung segment when a lobectomy cannot be performed. The lungs have various numbers of segments: three in the right upper lobe, two in the right middle lobe, five in the right lower lobe, four in the left lower lobe and four in the left upper lobe.

Lobectomy: In this procedure, an entire lobe is removed from the lung. The right lung has three lobes, and the left lung has two.

Pneumonectomy: This surgery removes an entire lung.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy drugs are designed to attach themselves to specific receptors and proteins unique to cancer cells. Targeted therapy may be used alone, in combination with other types of targeted therapies, or with other lung cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or interventional pulmonology.

Lung cancer clinical trials

As part of our commitment to providing new and innovative treatments, our doctors may recommend that lung cancer patients enroll in carefully selected clinical trials. If you meet specific criteria, clinical trials may offer lung cancer treatment options that would otherwise be unavailable to you.

Clinical trials are a key testing ground for determining the effectiveness and safety of new treatments and drugs for many diseases, including cancer.

Each patient is considered for a clinical trial on an individual basis and may qualify at any stage of disease or treatment. Talk to your doctor about whether a clinical trial is a good option for you and ask about the risks and various requirements involved.

Search clinical trials for lung cancer

Next topic: How is lung cancer treated with interventional pulmonology?