Depending on the type of lung injury you have, how severe it is, whether it has spread and other factors, you may have several lung injury treatment options.
Your doctor may discuss any, or a combination of, the following treatment options:
Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatment options for cancers.
Chemo, as it is often referred to, is a collection of specialized medications that shrink or kill cancer. The medication may be administered intravenously (IV) or can be taken orally. In either case, the drugs travel through the bloodstream and can reach most parts of the body.
The type of chemo used and the overall treatment program will vary depending on your lung injury.
Chemo is one of the primary lung injury treatment options for lung cancer – both small cell and non-small cell.
Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)
Since the cancer has already spread by the time doctors diagnose it, SCLC treatment often includes a combination of chemo drugs, or a combination of chemo and radiation. Patients with limited stage SCLC receive chemoradiation – or a combination of the two.
People with extensive stage SCLC will generally be treated with chemo and immunotherapy, or via a combination of medications. Sometimes, depending on the situation, radiation may also be an option. Patients who have generally poor health may not respond well to a combination of drugs.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)
Chemotherapy is also a common method for treating NSCLC. Not everyone with NSCLC will require chemo, as it’s applicability depends on the stage of the cancer and other factors. Sometimes, chemo is recommended in conjunction with other treatment options, such as:
- Surgery: Before surgery, neoadjuvant chemo is useful to shrink a tumor, making it easier to remove. After surgery, adjuvant chemo may be useful in killing off any remaining cancer cells that may have been left behind.
- Radiation: Chemo is often used in conjunction with radiation therapy, especially for advanced cancers that have spread outside of the original area. This method is very common in patients who are in poor health or among whom surgery is not an option.
Chemo is a common treatment method in patients with the most severe stages of cancer, such as those that have spread to the bones, adrenal glands or liver.
Some of the chemo drugs most commonly used to treat NSCLC include:
- Paclitaxel (Taxol)
- Docetaxel (Taxotere)
- Etoposide (VP-16)
- Gemcitabine (Gemzar)
- Pemetrexed (Alimta)
- Vinorelbine (Navelbine)
Chemotherapy to treat adenocarcinoma is very similar to chemo used to treat other types of lung cancer. Chemo destroys cancerous cells, shrinks tumors and can prevent cancer from returning. Patients with adenocarcinoma may receive chemo, a combination of chemo and radiation or chemo in conjunction with surgery.
Chemotherapy is also a common part of a treatment plan for mesothelioma. Doctors often administer chemo before surgery to shrink tumors or make the operation easier. Doctors may also administer chemo after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells and reduce the chance of it returning. Some patients with mesothelioma may have chemo administered directly into the area, such as the abdominal cavity in cases of peritoneal mesothelioma.
Radiation therapy is one of the most common lung injury treatment methods for different types of cancer. High doses of radiation can shrink tumors and kill cancerous cells. Radiation damages the DNA of the cells, causing them to stop growing, repairing or dividing. When the cells are damaged or break down, the body removes them.
Radiation is an effective treatment for lung injuries including lung cancer, adenocarcinoma, mesothelioma and silicosis. Treatment of these injuries is a process that can takes weeks because cancerous cells usually don’t die immediately. The type of radiation your doctor prescribes will depend on a variety of factors, including:
- The type of cancer
- Size of the tumor(s)
- Where the tumor is located in your body
- How close the tumor is to normal tissue that could be damaged by radiation
- Your overall health and medical history
- Whether other cancer treatments are possible
Often, radiation is used in conjunction with surgery and chemotherapy.
There are two primary types of radiation:
- External Beam: A machine aims radiation at a specific location on your body where the cancer is located. The machine moves around you and makes a lot of noise, but it never touches your body. External beam radiation is a form of localized treatment because it targets only the affected area. For example, if you have lung cancer, the radiation will only target your chest.
- Internal: Internal radiation is a treatment method where radiation is put inside your body. It can be either solid or liquid. Solid internal radiation is called brachytherapy. Small capsules, seeds or ribbons that contain radiation are placed in the body near the tumor. They give off radiation for a while and doctors monitor the process periodically. Internal radiation with a liquid is systemic therapy. Patients may receive radiation via an IV, injection or in pill form. It travels through your body via the bloodstream. The radiation seeks out and destroys cancer cells.
Radiation can cause side effects, so it is important to completely understand how radiation may affect your body and health. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan and possible side effects you need to be aware of.
Surgery is often one of the best options for treating lung injuries. Depending on the type of cancer or disease, surgery may be effective in removing cancer or managing symptoms. Surgery is a treatment option for lung cancer, adenocarcinoma, mesothelioma and silicosis.
Some patients with lung cancer are candidates for surgery to remove tumors or cancerous cells or tissues. Surgery is often the best option for cancer that is localized and has not spread. Early stage lung cancers can be treated, or possibly cured, by removing the cancerous tumor or cells.
Surgery for lung cancer done via thoracotomy or minimally invasive methods. A thoracotomy involves making an incision along the chest and then separating the muscle and ribs to provide access to the lung. Minimally invasive methods involve making a series of small incisions on the chest and using special instruments to complete the procedure. Minimally invasive surgery is also known as thoracoscopy or video-assisted thorascopic surgery (VATS).
There are various surgical procedures that doctors can use to treat lung cancer. These may include:
- Lobectomy: Surgical removal of the affected lobe of the affected lung.
- Bilobectomy: Surgical removal of two lobes when cancer affects both lobes.
- Sleeve Lobectomy: Surgical removal of the affected lobe and a portion of the bronchus of the affected lung.
- Segmentectomy: Surgeons remove one to four segments of the affected lobes and save tissue that is not affected.
- Wedge Resection: Surgical removal of a small wedge-shaped piece of lung tissue that surrounds the tumor.
- Pneuomectomy: Removal of the entire lung affected by lung cancer. This procedure is generally done when the cancerous lesion is centrally located, or when removing individual lobes will not completely remove the cancer.
The type of surgery you need will depend on your health, the type of cancer and other factors. Talk to your doctor about surgical options that may be right for you.
Surgery is a possible treatment option for adenocarcinoma. Surgeons will remove cancerous glandular tissue and possibly some surrounding tissue. Often, this is done via minimally invasive procedures. This speeds up healing time and reduces the risks of negative side effects or complications from surgery.
Surgery is one of the most common treatments for mesothelioma. Remember, there is no cure for mesothelioma, but surgery can help ease symptoms and slow down disease progression and spreading. Surgical options for mesothelioma include:
- Removal of early stage cancer cells, which may cure or significantly slow down cancer progression.
- Insertion of a tube or catheter into the chest cavity to drain fluid that has built up around the lungs.
- Surgical removal of a lung that contains mesothelioma. Often, surgery will also remove surrounding tissues.
- Surgical removal of tissues around the lung that may contain mesothelioma. This surgery may remove the tissue that lines the lungs and ribs.
Silicosis is a progressive lung disease for which there is no cure. Treatment options focus on relieving symptoms and slowing down disease progression. In severe cases, however, patients may need to speak with a lung transplant specialist. Lung transplant surgery is usually a last resort, and is only available for patients with extremely severe lung damage.
Targeted therapy is a type of lung injury treatment that can be used for a variety of cancers. This treatment targets proteins that control how cancer cells grow, spread and divide. Targeted therapy is constantly evolving as researchers learn more about the DNA of cancer cells and how certain drugs or other treatments affect them.
There are two primary types of targeted therapy:
- Small-Molecule Drugs: These drugs enter cells easily and can target proteins and DNA inside the cells.
- Monoclonal Antibodies: These are proteins created in a lab. They attach to specific targets on cancer cells. Some antibodies serve as markers so they are easy to identify and destroy by the immune system. Others stop cancer cells from growing. Still others can carry toxins to the cancer cells or cause them to self-destruct.
Not all cancer patients qualify for targeted therapy. Doctors must establish that the tumor or cancerous cells have targets that can be targeted by a drug. Usually this is done via a biopsy.
There are some cons to using targeted therapy. First, cancer cells can eventually become resistant to the drug or antibodies. Also, scientists don’t always have drugs available for certain targets and it can be difficult to produce them. For these reasons, targeted therapy is often used alongside other treatment options, such as chemotherapy and radiation.
The human immune system is powerful and can identify and destroy cancer cells. Unfortunately, sometimes cancer cells hide from the immune system or interfere with its ability to function. In these cases, immunotherapy can be a helpful treatment option.
Immunotherapy may also be called biological therapy. It is a process of boosting the immune system and helping it find and destroy cancer cells. This is a treatment option for a variety of cancers, including lung cancer, adenocarcinoma, mesothelioma and silicosis. Immunotherapy can effectively:
- Slow the growth of cancer
- Stop the growth of cancer
- Stop cancer from spreading
- Help the immune system work more effectively
- Help the body deliver chemotherapy or radiation directly to cancerous cells
There are different types of immunotherapy, meaning patients may have options when it comes to how this treatment is administered.
Some of the different types of immunotherapy treatments include:
- Monoclonal Antibodies: Lab-produced antibodies that trigger an immune system response. The antibodies may target a specific antigen, attack and destroy it.
- Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors: Checkpoints are a system the body uses to slow down immune system responses. Cancer cells can sometimes confuse T cells in the body that causes the immune system to NOT attack cancerous cells. Inhibitors work by blocking checkpoint proteins so the immune system can do its job.
- Conjugated Monoclonal Antibodies: These antibodies help deliver chemotherapy or radiation to cancer cells. They attach to radioactive isotopes, identify cancer cells and release radiation to damage or destroy them.
- Non-Specific Immunotherapy: This treatment uses cytokines, a chemical in the body that triggers the immune system to fight a germ or disease. Scientists can make cytokines in a lab, which can help the body trigger a stronger immune system response to cancerous cells.
Immunotherapy may include a pill or capsule, intravenous (IV) administration or topical administration. Some are available only in a hospital setting, while others can be taken at home. Your doctor will establish a regimen for immunotherapy based on your condition. Immunotherapy often accompanies chemotherapy and radiation.
Pulmonary rehabilitation includes exercise programs specifically designed for patients with lung injuries. The goal of pulmonary rehabilitation is to rebuild strength, improve lung function and reduce symptoms.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is performed by a team of doctors, physical therapists and respiratory therapists. They may work in conjunction with other specialists as well. Together, your rehabilitation team will create a rehabilitation program that meets your needs.
Most rehabilitation is done in a group setting. In addition to exercises, you may attend classes and workshops aimed at helping you manage your disease. Over time, you should feel stronger physically and mentally and in better control of your disease and symptoms.
If you have a lung injury or disease, one of the most important ways to improve your symptoms and prognosis is to quit smoking, if you are a smoker. Smoking can worsen symptoms and speed up disease progression.
Quitting smoking is one of the first treatment recommendations that doctors make for patients with lung cancer, adenocarcinoma, mesothelioma and silicosis. All of these lung injuries get worse by smoking.
Quitting smoking can benefit your health in many ways, such as:
- Lowers carbon monoxide levels
- Reduces the risk of a heart attack
- Improves lung function
- Reduces bouts of coughing or shortness of breath
- Reduces the risk of coronary heart disease
- Lowers your risk of throat, mouth or esophageal cancers
- Reduces the risk of developing lung cancer by half
Of course, quitting is difficult for many people. Talk to your doctor and utilize the various tools available to help you quit.
The American Lung Association (ALA) offers some advice and guidance for people who want to quit but aren’t quite sure how:
- Identify your reasons for quitting. These reasons can motivate you when things get tough.
- Talk to your doctor about resources available to support your goals.
- Know what to expect as you quit, based on your process or program.
- Get help from national or local resources, such as Freedom from Smoking or Quit4Life.
By quitting smoking, not only do you get the benefits listed above, but you are also helping protect those around you from toxic secondhand smoke. By quitting, you could also be reducing their risk of developing lung cancer or other diseases.
Have Questions about Lung Injury Treatment?
If you have questions about lung injury treatment, your best option is to talk to your doctor. Only your doctor knows the details of your medical condition and the care required. However, if you have general questions about lung injuries, causes of lung injuries, or lung injury treatment options, you can visit our lung injury FAQ page to learn more.
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