Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body in order to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given either alone or along with radiation therapy. When given alone, it is given in a higher dose designed to kill off cancer cells. When given along with radiation therapy, it is delivered at a lower dose and is designed to make the cancer more sensitive to the radiation. Chemotherapy may be used:
There are a variety of chemotherapy drugs. The choice and combination of drugs will be based on your particular cancer and reaction to drugs. Chemotherapy drugs for lung cancer may include:
Chemotherapy is most often given through an IV, but some forms can be given by mouth. It is delivered in cycles over a set period of time. A medical oncologist will determine how many cycles of chemotherapy are needed and what combination of drugs will work best.
Though the drugs are designed to target cancer cells, they can affect healthy cells as well. The death of cancer cells and impact on healthy cells can cause a range of side effects. A medical oncologist will work to find the best drug combination and dosage to have the most impact on the cancer cells and minimal side effects on healthy tissue. Side effects or complications from chemotherapy may include:
A variety of treatments are available to help manage side effects including medication, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments. In some cases, the chemotherapy regimen may be adjusted to reduce severe side effects. The earlier the side effects are addressed, the more likely they will be controlled with a minimum of discomfort.
Chemotherapy. American Lung Association website. Available at:
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Updated November 3, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Chemotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-small-cell-lung-cancer/treating/chemotherapy.html. Updated May 16, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/small-cell-lung-cancer/treating/chemotherapy.html. Updated May 16, 2016. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Management of unresectable nonmetastatic non-small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906058 . Updated June 30, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115654/Small-cell-lung-cancer . Updated June 23, 2017. Accessed August 30, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 8/30/2017