Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer Treatments

At UT Southwestern Medical Center, we treat lung cancer differently than other health care facilities in North Texas. We use a multidisciplinary approach involving medical treatment, radiation therapy, interventional pulmonology procedures, and surgery, as appropriate. We also provide support for patients and their families. 

Our experts, who are subspecialized to focus solely on lung cancer, create individualized treatment plans based each patient’s unique cancer.

Patients might also have the opportunity of enrolling in a clinical trial for access to experimental treatments in addition to their regular care. 

Medical Treatment

Medical treatment is a term for systemic treatments that travel through the bloodstream (either by IV administration or by pills that are absorbed in the gut). This type of treatment can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body. A lung cancer treatment plan can include systemic treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted therapies, or immunotherapies administered by a specialized lung cancer medical oncologist. 

Medical treatments for lung cancer include:

  • Chemotherapy: Powerful medications that kill rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, and can be used before or after surgery
  • Targeted therapies: Medications that target specific mutations in cancer cells that are not found in normal cells
  • Immunotherapy: Drugs that boost the immune system, enabling a patient’s own white blood cells to recognize cancer cells and destroy them 

Surgery for Lung Cancer

Often, early-stage lung cancer can be treated with surgery alone or in combination with medical treatment or radiation therapy. We can perform advanced, minimally invasive surgery – such as robotic lobectomy – that can successfully treat lung cancer. 

Types of lung cancer surgery include:

  • Segmentectomy or wedge resection: Removal of part of a section (lobe)
  • Lobectomy: Removal of an entire lobe of a lung
  • Pneumonectomy: Removal of the entire lung 

The type of surgery we recommend depends on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the patient’s overall health. 

Robotic Lobectomy for Lung Cancer

Lobectomy, or the surgical removal of a cancerous lobe in the lung, is the standard treatment of early-stage, non-small cell lung cancer. Robotic surgery is performed with the surgeon sitting at a console, manipulating small instruments in the patient’s body. Because the instruments are so small, robotic lobectomy is performed through a few tiny incisions between the ribs, which means that patients can avoid a large incision in the chest.  

Benefits of robotic surgery include:

  • Less pain
  • Faster recovery
  • Reduced chance of infection
  • Quicker return to normal activity
  • Less scarring 

UT Southwestern’s Kemp Kernstine, M.D., Ph.D., was one of the first thoracic surgeons in the world to master the robotic lobectomy technique, and he remains one of the highest-volume thoracic surgeons in the country. 

Radiation Therapy

Some of the most groundbreaking achievements in radiation therapy for lung cancer in the past decade have taken place at UT Southwestern. Our physicians have pioneered the use of stereotactic radiation to treat early-stage lung cancer, in some instances changing the medical standard of care for certain patient populations. 

Using beams of radiation spread out over dozens of angles, stereotactic radiation is able to deliver a more potent dose than standard radiation therapy while avoiding nearby healthy tissue. The ability to safely deliver this treatment relies on sophisticated imaging and planning technology, as well as a team experienced in performing stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR, also known as stereotactic body radiation therapy, or SBRT). 

Radiation can be given as a primary treatment, before surgery, to shrink a tumor and make it easier to remove, or after surgery to further decrease the chance of cancer recurrence. Research at UT Southwestern has proven that inoperable patients such as the frail and elderly have a very high (97 percent) chance of cure of their primary tumor with stereotactic radiation, a significant improvement over the 30 to 40 percent tumor control rate with conventional therapy. 

We provide radiation therapy treatments for lung cancer with leading-edge techniques, such as:

  • Combined-modality treatments: Chemotherapy and surgery can be combined with radiotherapy to create the most optimal results for the patient.
  • High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy: Some tumors growing inside the air space of the lung can be treated with a radioactive source placed directly next to the tumor through a very small catheter threaded down the patient’s throat and into the lung. This procedure involves coordination with other UT Southwestern physicians in the Interventional Pulmonology Service.
  • Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT): Advanced onboard imaging systems attached to the treatment machines allow clinicians to verify the tumor location and reposition patients as needed between treatments.
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): This state-of-the-art treatment allows doctors to use multiple radiation beams of varying lengths and intensity. The radiation beams can be moved dozens or hundreds of times during treatment, resulting in a radiation field that is “sculpted” in three dimensions. Rather than creating a uniform field of radiation, the radiation is delivered to precisely conform to the actual shape of the tumor, thus sparing the surrounding healthy tissue.
  • Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR): This type of radiation therapy involves one or a few high-dose applications of radiation to a tumor, instead of the many smaller doses given in standard radiation treatment. Several radiation beams are precisely aimed at different angles to converge on a small tumor. 

Other Specialized Treatments for Lung Cancer

When symptoms of lung cancer cause discomfort or affect the ability to breathe, our interventional pulmonologists can perform aggressive interventional techniques such as advanced bronchoscopic and pleuroscopic procedures. 

Having dedicated interventional pulmonologists on our lung cancer team is another unique aspect of care at UT Southwestern.