- How is small cell lung cancer treated?
- Choosing a treatment plan for small cell lung cancer
- Surgery for small cell lung cancer
- Radiation treatment for small cell lung cancer
- Chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer
- Clinical trials for small cell lung cancer
- Complementary and alternative therapies for small cell lung cancer
Radiation treatment for small cell lung cancer
Radiation therapy is treatment with high-energy rays (like x-rays) to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. The radiation comes from outside the body (external radiation). In small cell lung cancer it is most often used along with chemotherapy (in limited stage disease) to treat the tumor and lymph nodes in the chest.
Radiation might be used on the brain to try to prevent the spread of cancer there. Radiation can also be used to relieve symptoms such as pain, bleeding, trouble swallowing, or problems caused by the cancer spreading to the brain.
Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, although the setup time – getting you into place for treatment – takes longer. Most often, radiation treatments are given once or twice a day, 5 days a week for several weeks. Radiation to relieve symptoms or to prevent spread to the brain is given for shorter periods of time. Standard radiation is used less often than in the past. Newer methods such as 3D-CRT and IMRT allow doctors to be more precise in treating lung cancers while reducing radiation to nearby healthy tissues.
Possible side effects of radiation treatment
- Sunburn-like skin problems
- Hair loss (in the place where the radiation enters the body)
- Tiredness (fatigue)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
Radiation can affect the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. This can lead to low blood counts. This can lead to:
- Increased chance of infections (from low white blood cell counts)
- Easy bruising or bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)
- Fatigue (from low red blood cell counts)
If your esophagus, which is in the middle of your chest, is exposed to radiation, it could cause a sore throat and trouble swallowing during treatment. This may make it hard to eat anything other than soft foods or liquids for a while.
When chemotherapy is given with radiation, many of the side effects are worse. Most side effects improve or even go away after treatment ends.
Side effects of radiation therapy to the brain usually become most serious 1 or 2 years after treatment. These side effects could include memory loss, headaches, trouble with thinking, and less sexual desire. These side effects, though, are usually minor compared to those caused by lung cancer tumors that have spread to the brain.
For more information about radiation treatment, please see our document, Understanding Radiation Therapy: A Guide for Patients and Families.
Last Medical Review: 03/14/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013