Lung Cancer (Non-Small Cell)

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Treating Lung Cancer - Non-Small Cell TOPICS

Other local treatments for non-small cell lung cancer

At times, treatments other than surgery or radiation therapy may be used to treat lung tumors at a specific location.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)

This technique might be an option for some small lung tumors that are near the outer edge of the lungs, especially in people who can’t have or don’t want surgery. It uses high-energy radio waves to heat the tumor. A thin, needle-like probe is placed through the skin and moved along until the end is in the tumor. Placement of the probe is guided by CT scans. Once it is in place, an electric current is passed through the probe, which heats the tumor and destroys the cancer cells.

RFA is usually done as an outpatient procedure, using local anesthesia (numbing medicine) where the probe is inserted. You may be given medicine to help you relax as well.

Major complications are uncommon, but they can include the partial collapse of a lung (which often resolves on its own) or bleeding into the lung.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy is sometimes used to treat very early stage lung cancers that are still confined to the outer layers of the lung airways when other treatments aren’t appropriate. It can also be used to help open up airways blocked by tumors to help people breathe better.

For this technique, a light-activated drug called porfimer sodium (Photofrin®) is injected into a vein. This drug is more likely to collect in cancer cells than in normal cells. After a couple of days (to give the drug time to build up in the cancer cells), a bronchoscope is passed down the throat and into the lung. This may be done with either local anesthesia (where the throat is numbed) and sedation or with general anesthesia (where you are in a deep sleep). A special laser light on the end of the bronchoscope is aimed at the tumor, which activates the drug and causes the cells to die. The dead cells are then removed a few days later during a bronchoscopy. This process can be repeated if needed.

PDT may cause swelling in the airway for a few days, which may lead to some shortness of breath, as well as coughing up blood or thick mucus. Some of this drug also collects in normal cells in the body, such as skin and eye cells. This can make you very sensitive to sunlight or strong indoor lights. Too much exposure can cause serious skin reactions (like a severe sunburn), so doctors recommend staying out of any strong light for 4 to 6 weeks after the injection.

For more information, please see our document Photodynamic Therapy.

Laser therapy

Lasers can sometimes be used to treat very small lung cancers in the linings of airways. They can also be used to help open up airways blocked by larger tumors to help people breathe better.

You are usually asleep (under general anesthesia) for this type of treatment. The laser is on the end of a bronchoscope, which is passed down the throat and next to the tumor. The doctor then aims the laser beam at the tumor to burn it away. This treatment can usually be repeated, if needed.

Stent placement

Lung tumors that have grown into an airway can sometimes cause trouble breathing or other problems. To help keep the airway open (often after other treatments such as PDT or laser therapy), a hard silicone or metal tube called a stent may be placed in the airway using a bronchoscope.


Last Medical Review: 05/22/2013
Last Revised: 02/10/2014