There are a variety of other therapies which can sometimes be used to treat lung cancer. Some of the therapies mentioned below are very new and their role in the treatment of lung cancer is still being researched. Because of this, not all of these treatments may be available in every cancer unit. Patients can ask their doctor if any of the following therapies may be suitable for them:
Immunotherapy Immunotherapy uses drug treatment to affect how the immune system reacts to cancer cells. The body’s immune system stops itself attacking normal, healthy cells by using a series of checkpoints. Research has shown that some cancer cells disguise themselves, so they are not spotted by the checkpoints which mean the immune system does not destroy them. These new Immunotherapy treatments are designed to stop the cancer cells going unspotted and to allow the body's immune system’s fighter T-cells to recognise and destroy them. Endobronchial therapies The following therapies are most commonly used to unblock or clear an airway in the lungs. This can help relieve symptoms of breathlessness, cough and chest infections from the blocked airway.
This type of treatment is also known as internal radiotherapy and is given inside the lung airway. A radioactive material (radioactive isotope) is given directly into or close to the tumour during a bronchoscopy (a narrow flexible tube inserted through your nose or mouth into your lungs).
Cryotherapy or Cryosurgery
This treatment kills cancer cells by freezing them. It is often used for people with advanced lung cancer or where the tumour is blocking an airway. You will usually get a general anaesthetic or a drug to make you drowsy. A probe called a cryoprobe is inserted through a bronchoscope to reach the tumour. The area is allowed to thaw and then is frozen again. The doctor will remove as much of the tumour tissue as possible. You may cough up more tissue for a few days after the treatment. It may be necessary to repeat the cryotherapy.
Diathermy resection or Electrocautery
This treatment uses an electrical current passed through a probe to kill cancer cells. It may be done through a rigid or a flexible bronchoscope.
Laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) is a very thin, focused beam of light which heats the tissue it is directed at. The doctor will position the laser using a bronchosope. It may be done through a rigid or flexible bronchoscope.
If your airway is blocked by a tumour, your doctor may insert a tiny tube called a stent to open an airway, to allow you to breathe easier. When the bronchoscope tube is in the right place, the doctor pushes the folded up stent down the tube. As it comes out of the end of the tube, the stent opens up and pushes the walls of the airway open. Your doctor then takes out the bronchoscopy tube. Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) PDT uses laser, or other light sources, combined with a light-sensitive drug (sometimes called a photosensitising agent) to kill cancer cells. It may be used for early stage non-small cell lung cancer when standard surgery is not suitable. It can also be used for more advanced cancer to remove a tumour that is blocking the airways. Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) This treatment uses radiofrequency heat energy to destroy the cancer. It is done either using a local anaesthetic and sedation or with the patient under general anaesthetic. A special needle (or ‘probe’) is inserted through the skin into the tumour. The radiologist uses images (usually a type of scan called a CT scan) to help guide the needle into place. When it is in place, a radiofrequency electrical current is passed down the needle to apply heat and destroy the tumour tissue. Complementary therapies Sometimes also known as alternative therapies, they may help to control lung cancer symptoms and enhance patients’ quality of life. Complementary therapies may be used alongside conventional cancer treatments. They aim to treat the whole person including the physical, spiritual and social being. However, it is important to stress that although patients may find complementary therapies very helpful in reducing symptoms such as pain, there is no conclusive scientific evidence which proves that such treatments can cure cancer. There are a huge variety of complementary therapies advertised on the open market, many of which are well known and have been proven to be helpful. However, there are also some therapies that are expensive and have doubtful benefits. Patients should be very wary of unusual and often costly therapies advertised, and discuss any potential complementary therapy with their GP. Hospitals or GPs sometimes have their own alternative therapy service available. Note: It is important for patients to also check with their doctor before starting any complementary therapy, as it may interfere with their current treatment or medication.