When people talk about cancer treatments, “chemotherapy" is often a term that’s discussed. Chemotherapy refers to many types of drugs used to kill or prevent the growth of fast-growing cells. Some fast-growing cells cause cancer, while others don’t. Your hair and nails contain fast-growing cells, but chemotherapy can’t tell the difference between the cancerous and non-cancerous ones, and this is why the treatment can cause people to lose their hair and nails.

Chemotherapy may be given as a pill or an infusion into the bloodstream. It's usually given at regular intervals in a hospital, clinic, or in the doctor's office for a specific duration. A healthcare team determines the right type of chemotherapy, dose, treatment interval, and duration for each person.

Reasons to use chemotherapy include:

  • Before surgery: to shrink a tumor, making the operation easier
  • If the doctor feels that the cancer may return after surgery, they may use chemotherapy to lower that risk
  • After surgery: to kill any cancer cells that were left behind
  • If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes that aren’t close to the main tumor
  • If the person with lung cancer is not healthy enough for surgery
  • In late-stage cancer to help relieve symptoms

Depending on the chemotherapy, there may be other side effects such as sensitivity to heat or cold. Talk with your doctor about the side effects of each chemotherapy medicine and discuss any reactions you may experience.

Combining Chemotherapy with Radiation Therapy: Chemoradiation Therapy (CRT)

Sometimes, when an oncologist decides that chemotherapy is the right treatment for lung cancer, he or she may also recommend combining it with radiation therapy. This is called chemoradiation therapy (CRT)—a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Chemoradiation therapy may be given one after the other (sequential) or they may be given in combination with each other (concurrent).

Although these are both effective options individually, clinical data have shown that concurrent chemotherapy and radiation therapy has significant benefits over receiving them one at a time.

Talk with your doctor to find out the best treatment option for your specific lung cancer. If you have stage 3 NSCLC, there may be a treatment option available to you if the cancer can't be removed by surgery and has not progressed after concurrent chemotherapy and radiation therapy.