Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. I’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer and it was confirmed with a biopsy. I keep hearing about second opinions. Should I get a second opinion?

A. A second opinion is often valuable. Even if your diagnosis does not change with a second opinion, a second opinion on treatment is useful to help you determine the best way to treat your specific cancer.

Q. I have been told that I have lung cancer and the doctor said it was “inoperable.” Does that mean that my situation is hopeless and that I’m just going to die?

A. Inoperable means that surgery is not an option for your type of lung cancer. There may be other treatment options to shrink or even kill the cancer, slow its growth, and to help with side effects. There are treatments available for every stage of lung cancer.

Q. I have been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer and have started chemotherapy. My aunt had lung cancer a few years ago, and I remember that they gave her radiation therapy to the brain soon after she had her chemotherapy. She said it was called PCI. Should I have a PCI?

A. “PCI” or Prophylactic Cranial Irradiation, a treatment for small cell lung cancer, is a radiation therapy procedure which is a part of the standard course of treatment. Its purpose is to irradiate the brain to destroy rapidly progressing, undetectable lung cancer metastases to the brain, as small cell lung cancer has a tendency to metastasize very quickly to the brain. Persons, like you, diagnosed with non-small lung cancer, do not require this treatment, as non-small cell cancer tends to progress much more slowly and can be detected and controlled if there is metastasis to the brain

Q. I started chemotherapy 6 months ago and the doctor said it isn’t working and that I’ve “failed” chemotherapy. I tried very hard to do everything they told me…what did I do wrong?

A. The use of the word “failed” is unfortunate because it is the chemotherapy that failed, not you. Our society is filled with so many “can do” and “take charge” messages that people may think they have more control over disease than they actually do. This belief can cause a lot of guilt, both when people get sick and when their therapies may not work, because it seems as if both could be our fault. You most likely did nothing wrong — and everything right — during treatment.

Q. I’ve started chemotherapy treatment for my lung cancer. How long will I be on this treatment?

A. This is a question to ask your doctor. Even though treatment regimens have similarities, they are often tailored to the individual patient. Therefore, it is important you speak frankly with your doctor.

Q. The doctor has told me that she wants me to start on chemotherapy. I’ve heard bad things about reactions to chemotherapy and would rather be on radiation for my lung cancer. Why can’t I have radiation instead of chemotherapy?

A. Undergoing chemotherapy can be a scary experience, especially if you have heard that another treatment is better. However, your doctor made her recommendation based on your specific cancer and your general health and she has your best interest in mind. Also, you should know that there are medications available to help with some of the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting. Please share your concerns with your doctor.

Q. My doctor says that I will have an operation to remove my lung cancer. Why does he want me to have chemotherapy and radiation before the surgery?

A. Sometimes, treating a cancer before surgery will shrink the tumor, thus allowing the surgeon to more successfully remove it.

Q. How relevant are all those statistics about lung cancer to me and my diagnosis of lung cancer?

A. Statistics are compiled from the experiences of large numbers of people and therefore, are best interpreted in a general way, with the understanding that individuals may have different experiences.

Q. How accurate is the doctor’s prognosis about my lung cancer?

A. A doctor makes a prognosis based on many factors, including the specific type of cancer, its stage, and the general health and age of the patient. Doctors carefully gather as much information as they can before they make a prognosis. However, a second opinion may provide additional information.

Q. My doctor told met that I have stage IIIa lung cancer. What do these stages mean? Why do they have “stages” of lung cancer?

A. Cancers are classified into stages in order provide guidance for treatment decisions. The stages take into consideration the tumor size, if lymph nodes are involved, and if the cancer has metastasized, among other factors. Stage IIIa means that the lung cancer has spread to the lymph nodes outside of the lung but on the same side of the body where the cancer started. The staging section of this web site has additional information on this topic.

Q. The people in my lung cancer support group all seem to have such different reactions and results from the same chemotherapy drugs. Why is this?

A. There are many explanations for this. One is that every person metabolizes drugs differently. This may mean that the same dose of a drug may make one person sick while making another person tired. Another explanation is that the people in your group may be receiving different dosages of the same drug, or are at different phases of being treated with the same drug (sometimes the effects of chemotherapy drugs are cumulative and may not be obvious at the beginning of the regimen). Even though it is useful to share experiences and ways to cope, people with cancer should always remember that each cancer behaves differently.

Q. Our family oncologist treated my mom and my sister for breast cancer and she treats lots of women for breast and ovarian cancer and they seem to do okay. My husband says I shouldn’t see her for treatment of my lung cancer. Why?

A. Over the years, more and more has become known about different types of cancers. As this knowledge has increased, medicine has become increasingly specialized. An oncologist that treats mainly breast and ovarian cancers may not be as well informed to treat lung cancer as an oncologist who only treats lung cancer. Generally, it is best to seek treatment from someone who treats many patients with your specific type of cancer.

Q. I have been diagnosed with lung cancer. I am also a smoker. Why should I quit now?

A. Research shows that there are some immediate health benefits of quitting smoking, including enhanced circulation and lowered blood pressure. Quitting smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer can help your body better cope with the treatment you are about to undergo.

Q. I’ve read that high doses of vitamins can help treat my lung cancer. Should I begin taking them?

A. Even though researchers are examining different agents, including vitamins, to see if they can help reduce a person’s risk of lung cancer recurrence or enhance treatment, at this time, there is no evidence that high doses of vitamins can do so. You should consult your doctor before starting any dietary supplements.

Q. I have smoked for 25 years but don’t have lung cancer. Should I have an annual lung screening?

A. You should talk to your doctor about this issue. Screening for lung cancer is controversial, because it can detect scars and other irregularities that may be mistaken for cancer. However, screening can find cancers when they are early, and therefore more treatable. Recent investigational studies have indicated that there is a benefit in screening for individuals with extensive tobacco smoking histories. You should discuss your interest in lung screening with your doctor, given your smoking history.

Q. Should I consider participating in a clinical trial?

A. This is something to discuss with your medical team. There are many benefits to participating in clinical trials and there are also some risks. The clinical trial section of this website has more information to help you make up your mind on this important question.

Special thanks to the members of CancerCare’s lung cancer patient support group for their contributions to the list of questions.