Can Lung Cancer Be Treated Successfully?

Reviewed on 5/19/2021

Successful treatment for lung cancer depends on the type of lung cancer, the size and location of the cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the patient's overall health. The cure rate for early-stage lung cancer can be up to 90%.
Successful treatment for lung cancer depends on the type of lung cancer, the size and location of the cancer, the stage of the cancer, and the patient’s overall health. The cure rate for early-stage lung cancer can be up to 90%.

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that occurs when lung cells become abnormal and grow out of control. 

There are different types of lung cancer, as outlined in the table below.

Lung Cancer Types
Cancer Type Characteristics
Non-small cell lung cancer 
  • The most common type of lung cancer
  • Accounts for 80% to 85% of cases
Small cell lung cancer (also called oat cell cancer) 
  • Accounts for 10% to 15% of cases
Other types of tumors that can form in the lungs
  • Lung carcinoid tumors account for fewer than 5% of lung tumors
  • Other lung tumors: adenoid cystic carcinomas, lymphomas, and sarcomas, and benign lung tumors such as hamartomas are rare

Successful treatment for lung cancer depends on:

  • The type of lung cancer
  • The size and location of the cancer
  • The stage of the cancer
  • The patient’s overall health

The cure rate can be up to 90% for patients who have small, early-stage lung cancer.  Treatments for lung cancer may include:

  • Surgery
    • Removal of the tumor (stage 0)
    • Removal of the lobe of the lung that has the tumor (lobectomy) or removal of a smaller piece of the lung (sleeve resection, segmentectomy, or wedge resection) (Stage 1)
    • Lobectomy or sleeve resection or removal of the entire lung (pneumonectomy) (Stage 2 and later stages)
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
  • Laser therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) 
  • Lymph node removal
  • Chemotherapy 
  • Targeted therapy
    • For some lung cancers caused by genetic mutations, targeted therapies can be very effective and can significantly shrink tumors
  • Immunotherapy 
    • Boosts the immune system and can lead to improved outcomes
  • Participation in clinical trials

Stage IV lung cancers have spread widely (metastasized) and can be difficult to treat and cure. The treatments listed above may be used to help patients live longer, but they are unlikely to cure the disease at this late stage. 

What are Symptoms of Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer may have no symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms occur, they may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Persistent or worsening cough
  • Breathing problems
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum
  • Hoarseness
  • Fatigue/tiredness
  • Chest pain that may be worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or come back

If lung cancer spreads (metastasizes) to other parts of the body, symptoms may include:

What Causes Lung Cancer?

The main cause of all types of lung cancer is smoking, which is responsible for 80% of all lung cancer deaths, and many deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke. Smokers exposed to radon and asbestos are at higher risk. 

In non-smokers, causes of lung cancer include:

  • Secondhand smoke exposure
  • Workplace exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust, or other chemicals 
  • Air pollution
  • Exposure to radon
  • Genetic changes


Lung Cancer: Early Signs, Symptoms, Stages See Slideshow

How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

Symptoms of lung cancer often do not occur until the cancer is advanced. For this reason, The American Cancer Society has lung cancer screening guidelines for people with a higher risk of developing lung cancer, such as smokers. 

The American Cancer Society recommends people who are 55 to 74 years old, are in fairly good health, are current smokers or who have quit in the past 15 years, and have smoked a certain number of cigarettes per day should receive regular lung cancer screenings. A test called a low-dose CAT scan or CT scan (LDCT) is typically used. 

If lung cancer is suspected, imaging tests may be used to confirm a diagnosis, such as:

Lab tests used to diagnose lung cancer include:

  • Blood tests
  • Lung function tests
  • Sputum cytology 
  • Thoracentesis 
  • Tissue biopsy 
  • Bronchoscopy masses
  • Endoscopic esophageal ultrasound
  • Endobronchial ultrasound 
  • Mediastinoscopy and mediastinotomy
  • Thoracoscopy
  • Molecular tests for gene changes 
  • Tests for certain proteins on tumor cells

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Reviewed on 5/19/2021