Before beginning treatment, doctors make an overall assessment of how big the cancer is and how far it has spread. This is called staging the tumor: doctors use staging and other factors such as age and general health to determine the best treatment.
Surgery may be considered, especially if the tumor is small and the person has good lung function. Surgery will usually only be considered if doctors are certain that all of the tumor can be removed. Only about 10% of people diagnosed with lung cancer are suitable for surgery. The operation is done under general anesthesia, and the chest is opened so that part or the entire affected lung can be removed (resected). Radiotherapy uses a beam of x-rays to kill or shrink cancer cells. It is usually used for people who are not able to have surgery, and will often involve receiving radiation treatment over several days or weeks. If the tumor is large, radiotherapy may be used to shrink it to relieve pain or other symptoms, without attempting to cure the cancer.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is mainly used in the later stages of lung cancer, because once injected it can attack cancer cells throughout the body and help stop the cancer from spreading. Because many people with lung cancer are diagnosed with advanced disease, chemotherapy is a common treatment option to help prolong life and reduce symptoms. Sometimes a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be given to achieve the best results.