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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment

Different treatments are available for those with non-small cell lung cancer through the Abramson Cancer Center's Lung Cancer Program. Some treatments are called standard. This means they are the currently used treatments. Some treatments are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments.

When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. You may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment, while others are available during or after treatment.

Treatment options vary depending on your situation including the stage of the cancer and other factors that may be present. Talk with your team about the approach that is best for you.

Treatment for non-small cell lung cancer includes:


Chemoprevention is the use of drugs, vitamins, or other substances to reduce the risk of developing cancer or to reduce the risk that cancer will recur (come back).


Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Read more about chemotherapy at the Abramson Cancer Center.


Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or biologic immunotherapy.

Read more about immunotherapy at the Abramson Cancer Center.

New Combinations

New combinations of treatments are being studied in clinical trials.

The Center for Precision Surgery is currently testing the impact of an investigational technique intended to make the tumor glow and help detect cancer cells that would otherwise be missed during surgery. While still in clinical trial phase, this technique called intraoperative molecular imaging, would help with early detection and hopefully, better treatment success for cancer patients.

Read more about clinical trials at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a cancer treatment that uses a drug and a certain type of laser light to kill cancer cells. The drug is injected into the vein and is not active until it is exposed to light. Fiber optic tubes are then used to carry the laser light to the cancer cells, where the drug becomes active and kills the cells. Photodynamic therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue. It is used mainly to treat tumors on or just under the skin or in the lining of internal organs.

Read more about photodynamic therapy at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Radiation Therapy

  • External radiation (or external beam radiation) comes from a machine outside the body. The machine directs high-energy rays at the cancer and some normal surrounding tissue. It is the most often used radiation treatment. The machine used to deliver the high-energy rays is called a linear accelerator.
  • Three-dimensional (3-D) conformal radiation treatment is a type of external beam radiation. It uses computers to allow doctors to more precisely target a tumor with radiation beams (using width, height, and depth).
  • Intensity-modulated radiation treatment (IMRT) is a type of 3-D conformal radiation treatment that uses radiation beams (usually X-rays) of various intensities to give different doses of radiation, at the same time, to small areas of tissue. This allows the delivery of higher doses of radiation to the tumor and lower doses to nearby healthy tissue.
  • Internal radiation treatment, or brachytherapy, is given by placing an implant into or near the tumor. The implant is a small container that holds the radioactive source or material. Internal radiation treatment allows your doctor to give a higher total dose of radiation to a smaller area and in a shorter time than with external radiation treatment.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT) combines a drug called a photosensitizer or photosensitizing agent with a specific type of light to kill cancer cells. Photosensitizers are drugs that when exposed to a specific wavelength of light, produce a form of oxygen that kills nearby cells. PDT can also work by shrinking or destroying tumors by damaging blood vessels in the tumor. This prevents the cancer from receiving nutrients. Also, PDT may activate the immune system to attack the tumor cells.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery is a type of external radiation therapy that uses special equipment to position the patient and precisely give a single large dose of radiation to a tumor. It is used to treat brain tumors and other brain disorders that cannot be treated by regular surgery. It is also being studied in the treatment of other types of cancer. Also called radiation surgery, radiosurgery, and stereotaxic radiosurgery.
  • Proton therapy is the most precise form of radiation treatment for cancer possible, while minimizing damage to healthy tissue and surrounding organs.

Read more about radiation therapy at the Abramson Cancer Center.


  • Wedge resection is surgery to remove a tumor and some of the normal tissue around it. When a slightly larger amount of tissue is taken, it is called a segmental resection.
  • Lobectomy is surgery to remove a whole lobe (section) of the lung.
  • Pneumonectomy is surgery to remove one whole lung.
  • Sleeve resection is surgery to remove part of the bronchus.

Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center's thoracic surgeons have developed new surgical procedures to treat previously inoperable lung cancer.

Our surgeons are experts in evaluating the risks and benefits of minimally invasive procedures versus open procedures and will help you make the decision that's best for you.

Penn Medicine offers lung-conserving procedures to help in retaining the highest quality of life possible.

Read more about Surgery for cancer treatment at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Watchful Waiting (Expectant Management)

Watchful waiting, or expectant management, is closely monitoring a patient's condition without giving any treatment until symptoms appear or change. This may be done in certain rare cases of non-small cell lung cancer.