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Radiotherapy for small cell lung cancer

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This page tells you about radiotherapy for small cell lung cancer. There is information about

 

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Radiotherapy to the lung

Your doctor may suggest radiotherapy after or alongside chemotherapy for small cell lung cancer to help stop the cancer coming back in the lung. Your doctor will be most likely to suggest this treatment if your cancer has shrunk a lot or disappeared after your chemotherapy. You have this type of radiotherapy over a period of about 3 to 6 weeks.

Radiotherapy to the brain

Your doctor may suggest that you have radiotherapy to the brain. This is because small cell lung cancer can spread to the brain. With radiotherapy it is much less likely to happen. This treatment is stop the cancer cells from spreading and is called prophylactic cranial radiotherapy or PCI. 

You have this treatment over 1 to 3 weeks. The side effects include tiredness, headaches, and feeling or being sick.

Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms

Your doctor might use radiotherapy to help control symptoms. For example, you might have radiotherapy to your chest to help control pain, breathlessness, coughing, or coughing up blood. Or you may have radiotherapy to a bone that is causing pain because the cancer has spread there.

You might have radiotherapy to treat lung cancer that has spread to the brain, and is causing you symptoms. Brain secondaries are also called cerebral metastases.

 

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Radiotherapy to the lung

Your doctor may suggest radiotherapy after or alongside chemotherapy for early stage small cell lung cancer. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy given together is called concomitant chemoradiotherapy. Radiotherapy after chemotherapy is called adjuvant radiotherapy. 

It can help to stop the cancer coming back in the lung. Your doctor will be most likely to suggest this treatment if your cancer has shrunk a lot or disappeared after your chemotherapy. 

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment can get rid of small cell lung cancer completely for some people. So there is no sign of your cancer on scans or when you are examined. This is called a complete response. Sometimes the cancer can come back after treatment, so you need to have regular check ups.

You may have the radiotherapy treatment to the chest once a day over about 3 to 6 weeks. Or you may have it twice a day for 3 weeks.

 

Radiotherapy to the brain

Your doctor may suggest that you have radiotherapy to the head. This is because small cell lung cancer can spread to the brain. Giving radiotherapy to the brain over 1 to 3 weeks prevents the cancer cells from spreading. The radiotherapy can also help some people to live longer. This type of radiotherapy is called PCI or prophylactic cranial radiotherapy. 

Radiotherapy treatment to the brain can cause short term side effects that include tiredness, headaches and feeling or being sick for a few weeks. Your doctor can give medicines to reduce these effects. If you are very tired you may need to rest a lot and have help and support from your family or friends.

 

Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms

This type of treatment works very well for small cell lung cancer. So, as well as using radiotherapy with chemotherapy to try to cure the cancer, your doctor might use it to help control symptoms. 

For example, you might have radiotherapy to your chest to help control pain, breathlessness, coughing, or coughing up blood. Or you may have radiotherapy to a bone that is causing pain because the cancer has spread there.

You might also have radiotherapy to the brain. This is because the lung cancer has spread to the brain (brain secondaries). Brain secondaries are also called cerebral metastases. It is common for this to be the first place lung cancer travels to. 

 

For more information

Find out about

Radiotherapy

Chemotherapy for lung cancer

Side effects of brain tumours

Tiredness with cancer

Cancer and sickness

Controlling symptoms of lung cancer

Treating secondary brain tumours

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Updated: 28 March 2014