The most common cancer diagnosis in the world, lung cancer is also the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. The vast majority of primary lung cancers are malignant and known as carcinomas.
What are the symptoms?
Lung tumors often produce symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, unexplained weight loss, pneumonia or other infections. Tumors that grow into bones or the chest wall or spread to other areas can cause pain. Doctors may use biopsies, x-rays and CT scans for specific diagnoses.
What are the treatment options?
If they’re in good general health, stage-I and -II lung cancer patients are usually treated with surgery with good results. For those in poor medical condition for surgery, radiation therapy can be an effective alternative. More advanced stages must be evaluated individually for the possibility of surgery. Generally, treatment is offered with chemotherapy and radiation combined.
Some patients have small tumors that can be removed surgically, but they may suffer from other medical problems or may be opposed to surgery. In these cases, important treatment options like CyberKnife offer an alternative.
Stereotactic radiosurgery systems like the CyberKnife can offer effective treatment of lung tumors while carrying a low risk of side effects. There are ongoing studies to determine tong-term effectiveness, but the early results have been promising, feasible and safe.
What is the CyberKnife treatment process for lung tumors?
Prior to radiosurgery, doctors may have to implant between three and six small metal markers known as fiducials in or near the tumor that enable the CyberKnife to pinpoint the tumor location during treatment. Implanting the markers is an outpatient procedure that takes about an hour. About a week later, patients are fitted with a custom body mold made of soft material that they lie on during treatment. The fitting process is painless. Patients then undergo a CT scan used in developing a treatment plan.
Most CyberKnife patients have minimal side effects, the most common being fatigue. A dry cough can result from irritation of the airway but usually doesn’t last long. Lung inflammation known as radiation pneumonitis can occur when treating larger tumors. It usually resolves itself but may require medication. Special care must be taken with tumors near the center of the chest to limit radiation doses to large blood vessels and airways.