January 3, 2023
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By Foster Lasley, MD, as reported to Kara Mayer Robinson

If your lung cancer can’t be treated with surgery, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.

You may still have treatment options such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Non-surgical treatments can produce good results and are now widely used around the world.

What is inoperable lung cancer?

Inoperable lung cancer is simply a tumor that cannot be treated with surgery, which could be because your cancer is in a hard-to-reach place, it has spread outside your lungs, or you have other serious health problems.

For example, if your lungs are not generally healthy enough or you have a pre-existing condition such as heart disease, this can make surgery too risky.

How is inoperable lung cancer treated?

It’s up to you and your doctor to decide which options are best for you. Everyone is different, so your best treatment plan will be based on your specific needs.

Radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy can each be used to treat inoperable lung cancer. Your doctor may recommend one treatment or a combination of treatments.

What are the latest advances in inoperable lung cancer?

The treatment of lung cancer continues to improve thanks to continuous improvements in detection and treatment.

CT scans and other screening methods are becoming increasingly capable of detecting tumors early when they are more treatable.

Various combinations of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy are being tested in clinical trials to determine the best order and duration for each treatment.

Doctors are constantly reviewing the latest research to find tweaks to improve care.

What’s coming in the near future?

There is a lot of research in progress.

Current and upcoming clinical studies address:

  • How to tailor treatment to individual cancers
  • Treatment of a larger number of metastases
  • Improving the detection of small spots of distant metastases so they can be treated

Experts also discuss how to deal with metastases in the brain. Doctors have different opinions about the best approach.

Exciting research is being conducted to investigate the use of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) in combination with checkpoint inhibitors. SBRT is a type of radiation therapy that uses 3D imaging to target tumors throughout the body. Checkpoint inhibitors are a type of medication that block proteins found in some cancer cells.

Using checkpoint inhibitors in combination with other treatments may allow doctors to better treat lung cancer without surgery. This is particularly exciting for people with inoperable lung cancer. Clinical trials are still in the early phase I, but this could be a big development.

Another exciting new development is the increasing use of SBRT to decrease the number of oligometastatic sites in your body, often in combination with other therapies.

How do differences in health and health care affect inoperable lung cancer?

Unfortunately, recent research shows racial differences in minorities in how long they wait for cancer treatment.

Many affluent communities in the US have an abundance of medical resources. They also focus more on big cities.

However, this means that lower-income areas, where more people of color live, are comparatively underserved. When access is difficult and a larger area with more people has fewer cancer treatment centers, this can lead to bottlenecks and longer waiting times for treatment.

To counteract this, public and private practices must strive to establish locations in these lower-income and rural areas so that they are closer to underserved communities.

We work hard in my practice to ensure that patients, regardless of race, ethnicity, or background, receive the same care, tailored to their specific needs and health conditions.

What can you do to overcome the stigma of lung cancer and other mental health issues?

People may assume your cancer is self-inflicted because of smoking. But it can also happen if you have never smoked a cigarette. There are many other factors at play, including your family history of lung cancer.

This stigma, along with the emotional challenges of having lung cancer, can take a toll on your mental health, which plays a big part in holistic care.

Losing hope or feeling that your quality of life is declining can have a negative impact on your emotional and physical health. This can lead to sedentary lifestyle and high levels of stress, which can affect your treatment process and results.

To help with this, I recommend finding a support group in your area. More and more are popping up nationwide. If you can’t find one locally, there are many online communities ready to help and provide resources throughout your treatment process.

It’s also a good idea to exercise, eat right, and try to live your life as usual. This helps with positivity and overall happiness, which can ward off stress and depression. A positive mindset and a “can-do” attitude go a long way toward achieving a better outcome.

What is the outlook for inoperable lung cancer?

There is still hope if your lung cancer is inoperable. Modern medicine has found ways to effectively treat patients with inoperable lung cancer, so it’s absolutely vital that you keep hope, stay positive, and fight.

Every day, doctors around the world conduct clinical trials to find new, better ways to treat inoperable lung cancer. The solution for your specific case might be right around the corner, so we all have to keep moving to get there.


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