Treating Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

As part of our continued support for Lung Cancer Awareness Month here at Cancer Pro, we wanted to use the edition of our weekly blog, to guide you through the 5 main treatment options that are considered as standard care for NSCLC – ‘Standard Care’ is defined as the best-known treatments.

NSCLC is the most prevalent of the two main types of lung cancer and is responsible for between 80-85% of all lung cancer cases.

NSCLC Treatment Summary

Typically, when it comes to cancer care, different types of doctors will often come together to develop a patient’s overall treatment plan, which may well connect various types of treatments.

Known as a multidisciplinary team, it will include a mix of health care professionals, such as physician assistants, nurse practitioners, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counsellors, dietitians, and others.

NSCLC Treatment Options

Currently, there are 5 main options for treating NSCLC:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy

In the majority of cases, the treatment options and recommendations for treating NSCLC will depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, any possible side effects, the patient’s preferences and overall health.

For NSCLC patients it’s important that they take time to learn about each of the available treatment options, and consult with their doctor about any aspects they are unclear about or any issues they have with regards to possible side effects of each treatment. By discussing each treatment with their doctor, this will help give them an understanding of what to expect when receiving the treatments.


By electing to go for surgery the doctor will be completely removing the lung tumour and the nearby lymph nodes in the chest.

There are four types of surgery that may be used in NSCLC;

During surgery, the doctor is looking to fully remove the tumour with a surrounding border or margin of healthy lung tissue. A “negative margin” means that when a pathologist examines the lung or a piece of lung that was removed, no cancer was found in the healthy tissue surrounding the tumour.

After surgery, it takes time to recover and this will depend very much on how much of the lung was removed, and the health of the patient before surgery. However, the doctor can suggest a variety of additional treatments that can be given before and after the surgery to help lower the patients risk of any recurrence.

Radiation therapy

Undertaken by a specialist, radiation oncologist, radiation therapy is where the doctor uses high energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells.

The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy, where radiation is delivered from a machine outside the body. A radiation therapy regimen, or schedule, will usually consist of a specific number of treatments given over a set period, which can vary from just a few days to several weeks.

Like surgery, radiation therapy cannot be used to treat widespread cancer, as it only destroys those cancer cells directly in the path of the radiation beam, and, because it damages the healthy cells in its path, it cannot be used to treat any large areas of the body.


Chemotherapy is the use of powerful drugs to destroy the cancer cells, so stopping the cancer from growing, dividing, and making more cells. Depending on the type of lung cancer the patient has, such as adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, will affect which drugs are recommended for chemotherapy

Chemotherapy has been shown to improve both the length and quality of life for people with lung cancer of all stages. Typically a chemotherapy treatment regimen, or schedule, will usually consist of a specific number of cycles given over a set period.

Because the use of Chemotherapy may also damage healthy cells in the body, including blood cells, skin cells, and nerve cells, patients can suffer some pretty brutal side effects. However, in many cases, the side effects will usually go away once the treatment is finished.

Targeted therapy

The use of targeted therapy is a course of treatment that targets the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival.

Targeted therapy blocks the growth and spread of cancer cells and limits damage to healthy cells. However, not all tumours have the same targets, so to find the most effective treatment, doctors may need to run several tests to identify the genes, proteins, and other factors in the tumour.

While research studies continue to find out more about specific molecular targets and new treatments directed at them. Doctors understand that in some lung cancers, abnormal proteins can be found in unusually large amounts in the cancer cells, which helps them better match each patient with the most effective treatment.


Immunotherapy is also known as biologic therapy, is a course of treatment that is designed to boost the body’s natural defences to fight the cancer. It uses materials either created naturally by the body or developed in a laboratory to improve, target, or restore the body’s immune system function.

Examples include the PD-1 pathway that is very important in the immune system’s ability to control cancer growth. By blocking this pathway with PD-1 and PD-L1 antibodies, it can stop or slow down the growth of NSCLC in some patients.

About Cancer Pro

Cancer Pro is the voice of the world’s cancer physicians and oncology professionals in Malaysia and is the trusted compassionate resource for people with cancer, their families and caregivers. For more information regarding the various Lung Cancer treatments outlined here and their side effects, please visit www.