Dr. Martin Edelman, associate professor of Medicine in the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a member of the Thoracic Oncology Program treatment team at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, answers commonly asked questions about lung cancer and drug therapy.
Chemotherapy is usually given on an outpatient basis. The medication is administered through a vein in your arm. A specially trained nurse remains with you at all times while your chemotherapy is infusing. You may receive other medications before and during your chemotherapy which are designed to minimize and relieve side effects. There are several chemotherapy medications that work to kill lung cancer and often a combination of two of these medications is prescribed. The specific medication or combination of medications you receive will be selected based on your tumor type and your medical history. Exact doses of each medication will be calculated using your weight, height and lab values. Some chemotherapy drugs are available in pill or capsule form and can be taken at home.
Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss. Your doctor will be able to tell you if the medication you are taking is likely to make your hair fall out. If you do lose your hair, it will grow back after the treatments are over.
Side effects of chemotherapy depend on which drug or drugs you are taking, the dosage and the length of treatment. Some people experience few or no side effects. We know a great deal more about why nausea and vomiting occur after chemotherapy than only a few years ago. A number of powerful anti-nausea drugs are available for use. We routinely utilize drugs to prevent nausea and vomiting before administering chemotherapy.
Patients with advanced lung cancer who receive chemotherapy generally have an improved quality of life and tend to live longer than those who do not undergo drug therapy. Clinical studies have shown that patients on drug therapies for late stage lung cancer experience fewer days in the hospital and have fewer and less severe symptoms from their disease.
Minimal amounts of cancer cells can still be present after the removal of the cancer through surgery. Even when tests show clear margins and the absence of disease, tiny amounts of cancer cells may still be present in the body. Unfortunately this is a very common problem with lung cancer. Up to half of patients with Stage I or II non-small cell lung cancer still have cancer after surgery. However, it has now been clearly demonstrated that chemotherapy drugs can sharply reduce the chances of recurrence and risk of death from lung cancer in this situation.
UMGCC offers access to some of the most important new drugs in development for the treatment of lung cancer and other thoracic cancers. These trials test a variety of approaches, including the evaluation of new drugs for lung cancer as well as potentially better ways of using old drugs. These new drugs contain different mechanisms of action than previously used anti-cancer drugs. UMGCC has pioneered a number of treatments for locally advanced and advanced lung cancer. Other clinical trials in lung cancer include new drugs for initial therapy as well as second and subsequent therapies.
Return to the Thoracic Oncology treatment program.