Lung Cancer (non-small cell) Overview

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Treating Lung Cancer - Non-Small Cell TOPICS

Other local treatments for non-small cell lung cancer

At times, local treatments other than surgery or radiation may be used to destroy lung cancer cells that are only in a certain place.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)

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

RFA is usually done as an outpatient basis, using numbing medicine (local anesthesia) where the probe is put in. You may also be given medicine to help you relax.

Problems after RFA are not common, but they can include bleeding in the lung or air leaking into the chest space outside of the lung.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy is sometimes used to treat very early stage lung cancers in airway linings when other treatments aren’t a good choice. It may also be used to help open up airways blocked by tumors so a person can breathe better.

To do PDT, a light-activated drug is put into a vein. Over the next couple of days, the drug collects in cancer cells. A bronchoscope (a thin, flexible, lighted tube) is passed down the throat and into the lung. A special laser light on the end of the bronchoscope is aimed at the tumor. The light turns on the drug which causes the cells to die. PDT may be done by numbing the throat (local anesthesia) and sedating the patient or by putting the patient in a deep sleep (general anesthesia). The dead cells are then taken out a few days later during a bronchoscopy. PDT 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. PDT can also make a person very sensitive to sunlight or strong indoor lights for several weeks. To learn more about this treatment, please see our document Photodynamic Therapy.

Laser treatment

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 done more than once, 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 plastic or metal tube called a stent may be placed in the airway using a bronchoscope.


Last Medical Review: 09/05/2013
Last Revised: 04/30/2014