You may have heard the term "radiation" when discussing lung cancer treatments. Radiation therapy is a common cancer treatment that uses beams of intense energy to destroy or damage cancer cells and keep them from growing. Similar to an X-ray, radiation therapy only lasts a few minutes and does not cause pain during the procedure. 

Radiation therapy is usually a local treatment, focusing solely on the area being treated, which means it does not expose the entire body to the radiation. The goal of radiation therapy is to harm the cancer cells while having as little effect on the nearby healthy cells as possible. 

When may radiation therapy be used? 

  • Alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy if a lung tumor cannot be removed or if surgery is not an option
  • Before surgery to try to make the tumor smaller and easier to operate on
  • After surgery to try to prevent it from returning
  • To target and treat a single area of cancer spread
  • To help eliminate some cancer symptoms

Side effects will usually go away after the treatment is over. Keep your doctor informed of any side effects you may have, as he or she can help you manage them.

Combining Radiation Therapy with Chemotherapy: Chemoradiation Therapy (CRT)

When an oncologist decides radiation therapy is the right treatment for lung cancer, he or she may also recommend combining it with chemotherapy. The combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy is called CRT. Oncologists choosing this approach apply both treatments, because combining them may provide better results than treating with one or the other.

When tumors can’t be removed by surgery, an oncologist may recommend treating with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, also known as chemoradiation therapy. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be given one after the other (sequential) or they may be given at the same time (concurrent).  

Undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy at the same time can be harder on the body. But clinical data have shown it has significant benefits over receiving them one at a time.