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Chemotherapy (chemo) is an important part of lung cancer treatment. That’s because lung cancer symptoms often appear at a later stage, when cancer spread (metastasis) is more likely. Chemotherapy drugs treat the entire body, reaching cancer even if it’s spread outside the lungs.
Depending on the type and stage of cancer, your cancer team may recommend chemo to:
- Cure lung cancer
- Keep the cancer from spreading
- Ease the symptoms caused by lung cancer
At UCLA Health, our medical oncology team specializes in lung cancer medicines. We have the experience and in-depth knowledge to understand how and when to use chemotherapy to treat lung cancer.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses powerful drugs to stop cancer cells from growing and dividing. We personalize chemotherapy regimens by looking at the type and stage of the lung cancer, as well as the patient’s health and personal circumstances.
We use chemotherapy to achieve many goals and give chemotherapy at different times, including:
Before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy), to shrink the tumor so we can remove it more easily during surgery
After surgery or radiation therapy (adjuvant chemotherapy), to kill any cancer cells left behind after surgery or that may have spread beyond the lung
How is chemotherapy administered?
We give chemotherapy drugs by mouth or by injection into a vein (intravenous or IV). Treatment by injection may take a few minutes or a few hours. The medicine travels through the bloodstream to the entire body, making it a body-wide (systemic) treatment.
Your medical oncologist, who specializes in cancer medicines, will work with you to choose the drug or combination of drugs you’ll receive. Your physician will specify the dose size and determine how often and for how long you’ll receive chemotherapy treatment.
Chemotherapy for lung cancer: the UCLA Health advantage
At UCLA Health, we use chemotherapy to treat all types and stages of lung cancer. We offer:
Team approach: Your medical oncologist works together with other lung cancer specialists to coordinate your personalized treatment plan.
Latest chemo drugs: You’ll have access to the newest chemotherapy drugs, including options provided through our lung cancer clinical trials.
Skilled infusion nurses: Certified infusion nurses and chemotherapy experts carry out your chemotherapy treatment plan. They talk regularly with your physicians to make adjustments to your plan when needed.
Convenient treatment locations: UCLA Health’s infusion sites are conveniently located in Southern California. Find a cancer care location.
Managing chemotherapy side effects
Chemotherapy drugs target cells that quickly divide, like cancer cells. There are normal cells that also divide quickly, and chemotherapy often damages or kills those healthy cells, too. When that happens, you may experience side effects that include:
- Anemia (low iron)
- Hair loss
- Nerve pain
You’ll likely receive chemotherapy in cycles, with each treatment period followed by a period of rest. The rest periods allow your body to recover from the effects of the drugs.
The Simms/Mann Center for Integrative Oncology at UCLA Health provides a wide range of support services to ease the side effects of chemotherapy. We help you manage your nutrition and pain, while our Reflections Boutique offers solutions for changes to your physical appearance.