Radiation Therapy for Lung Carcinoid Tumors

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy rays (such as x-rays) or radioactive particles to kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, radiation therapy usually has only a limited effect on lung carcinoid tumors.

Surgery is the main treatment for most carcinoid tumors, but radiation therapy may be an option for those who can’t have surgery for some reason. It may also be given after surgery in some cases if there’s a chance some of the tumor was not removed. Radiation therapy can also be used to help relieve symptoms such as pain if the cancer has spread to the bones or other areas.

External beam radiation therapy

External beam radiation therapy uses a machine that delivers a beam of radiation to a specific part of the body. This is the type of radiation used most often for lung carcinoid tumors.

Before your treatments start, the radiation team will determine the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and the proper dose of radiation. Treatment is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation dose is stronger. The procedure itself is painless. Each treatment lasts only a few minutes, but the setup time – getting you into place for treatment – usually takes longer. Most often, radiation treatments are given 5 days a week for several weeks, but this can vary based on the reason it’s being given.

The main side effects of lung radiation therapy are fatigue (tiredness) and temporary sunburn-like skin changes where the radiation passed through the skin. If high doses are given, radiation therapy can cause scar tissue to form in the lungs over time, which might lead to trouble breathing and an increased risk of pneumonia.

Radioactive drugs

Drugs containing radioactive particles may be useful in treating some widespread carcinoid tumors. For this type of treatment, doctors use some of the same drugs used in radionuclide scans (see How Are Lung Carcinoid Tumors Diagnosed?), such as MIBG and octreotide, but they are attached to more strongly radioactive particles than are used in the scans. Once injected into the body, these drugs attach to carcinoid tumor cells. This lets doctors deliver high doses of radiation directly to the tumors. Some early results have been promising, but this type of treatment is not widely used at this time (see What’s New in Lung Carcinoid Tumor Research and Treatment?).

For more general information about radiation therapy, see Radiation Therapy.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: February 5, 2015 Last Revised: February 24, 2016

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