A member of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Network

What to Expect With Lung Cancer

The most common types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. A third type of lung cancer, mesothelioma, is usually caused by exposure to asbestos and occurs less often.

Non-small cell lung cancer describes several cancers (sqfuamous cell lung cancer, large cell cancer, and adenocarcinoma) that have similar characteristics and that arise in certain kinds of cells. Non-small cell is the most common type of lung cancer, and usually grows and spreads more slowly than small cell lung cancer. This type is most often caused by cigarette smoking.

Small cell cancer, which is less common, usually grows quickly. It has often spread to other areas of the body by the time it is diagnosed.

At Kaiser Permanente medical offices, we care for our lung cancer patients using the latest medical knowledge and advanced technology. Your cancer care team at Kaiser Permanente will help you understand what to expect and discuss your treatment options. Your team will provide care and support through diagnosis, treatment, and beyond.

Developing a Treatment Plan

At Kaiser Permanente, your doctor develops a treatment plan with you, reflecting both the best treatments available and your goals and preferences.

After you have an initial diagnosis, you’ll meet with a cancer specialist — a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, or surgeon — to discuss treatment options and next steps. Depending on the details of your cancer, you may meet with two or all three of the specialists.

Your doctor might order additional tests to determine the type and stage of the cancer. This confirms the size of the tumor and whether cancer cells have spread (metastasized) to other areas of the body.

These tests help your cancer doctor plan the right treatment options for you. You’ll discuss the options with your doctor and develop a plan together. We encourage you to bring a family member or friend to your appointments to take notes and help ask questions.

Depending on your type of cancer and stage, you might be able to participate in a clinical trial on new treatments. If you are interested in a clinical trial, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons.

Some patients want to get a second opinion for more information about their diagnosis or treatment options.

Lung Cancer Treatment

Lung cancer is usually treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of these treatments. Some patients need more than one kind of treatment, depending on the stage of the cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation sessions are usually scheduled over a few weeks or months.

At Kaiser Permanente, we keep up with changes and improvements in cancer treatment. We offer chemotherapy that’s easier to tolerate, radiation targeted to the cancer growth, and surgery that’s less invasive. We review the latest research findings to make sure our treatments are the most effective.

Side effects of chemotherapy or radiation can include nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, pain, skin irritation, and hair loss. Side effects depend on the type of chemotherapy drugs and radiation dose.

Planning Ahead

Once you and your doctor have decided on a treatment plan, you can plan for how treatment might affect your daily life.

If you smoke, quitting will help your treatment work better and help you recover faster. Ask your care team about programs to help you quit.

Your care team will let you know what side effects are common for your type of treatment and how you can manage them. A nutritionist can help you plan foods to have on hand. You might want to get a wig, scarves, or hats, if you’re likely to lose your hair.

Adjusting your priorities and schedule in advance can help ease stress before treatment begins. You may want to contact friends or family members to see if they’re available to help with rides or household needs.

After Treatment

It may take awhile to get your energy back after treatment. How you will feel depends on the stage of your cancer and treatment you’ve received. Making certain lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, helps reduce chances that lung cancer will come back.

Keeping up with your follow-up plan for care helps make sure your body continues to heal.