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Be empowered.

The first important thing to understand about lung cancer: you are not alone, as you will see in the highlighted facts below. Today, options for treating lung cancer, including radiation therapy, continue to advance. Throughout your cancer journey—from screening and diagnosis to treatment and survivorship—your medical care team is with you every step of the way.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer worldwide.

There were more than 2.2 million new cases of lung cancer across the globe in 2020.

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer.

Lung cancer

Your treatment plan

There are a variety of treatment options for lung cancer. Your treatment plan will depend on several factors, including the stage of the disease, your age and general health, and whether the cancer is new or recurrent.

Many patients are treated with various combinations of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy.

Radiation therapy may be used with or without chemotherapy as the first line of treatment when surgery is not indicated. It is also used following surgery to treat any cancer cells that remain, reducing the risk of cancer recurrence.

Lung cancer

Radiation therapy treatment techniques

There are different types of radiation therapy techniques that may be useful for lung cancer treatment, including:

Lung cancer

Possible side effects

Side effects are cumulative, which means they can develop over several weeks or months as the body responds to radiation. You can ask your radiation oncologist what you might expect from your specific treatment. These are some common side effects of lung cancer radiation therapy:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin irritation
  • Hair loss within treatment field
  • Shortness of breath, dry cough
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing

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Your treatment journey

When it comes to preparing for your lung cancer treatment, knowledge is power. That includes knowing what to expect during your treatment journey so you can move forward one informed and empowered step at a time. Here is a brief outline of what you can expect during treatment. The details of some steps may differ, depending on your particular case.

Step 1: Consultation

First, you'll meet with your radiation oncologist to discuss what type of radiation treatment options are recommended for your specific case, and make a decision together about your treatment.

Step 2: Simulation

As part of your treatment planning, the exact area of the tumor must first be determined. This is usually done using a CT scan, short for computed tomography, providing a detailed 3-D image of the treatment area using x-rays. Sometimes temporary skin marks or even tiny tattoos (about the size of a freckle) are made on your body to help the radiation therapist position you correctly each day for treatment.

Step 3: Treatment planning

After simulation is complete, your radiation oncologist will develop your personalized treatment plan, taking into account the location and type of cancer you have, your medical history, lab tests, and other factors—all to determine your best course of treatment. Typical treatment with radiation therapy will require you to come for treatment five days a week.

Step 4: Positioning for treatment

On your treatment days, your radiation therapist will position you on the radiation machine’s treatment couch. The couch will be adjusted so the radiation laser targets the small mark that was put on your skin during your simulation, ensuring you are properly aligned for treatment.

Step 5: Start of treatment

The radiation is delivered by a machine called a linear accelerator, or linac. Most linacs have a gantry, which will move around you to deliver the radiation. You won’t see, hear, feel, or smell the beam. Treatment sessions usually take approximately 15 minutes. Your first treatment session may be a little longer.

Step 6: Post-treatment and follow-up care

Every patient is different, but most patients can continue daily activities during treatment, despite side effects. After your final treatment, your radiation oncologist will schedule periodic follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and the results of your treatment.

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Helpful resources for lung cancer

Questions to ask

Some important things you may want to find out from your doctor before undergoing treatment for lung cancer.