Diagnosed With Early Stage Lung Cancer? What Are Your Best Treatment Options?

If you've recently been diagnosed with Stage I or II lung cancer, you may be feeling a mix of emotions -- from shock and raw fear at one of the most intimidating cancer diagnoses possible to rueful relief at being diagnosed early enough to figuratively dodge the Stage IV bullet. While early stage lung cancer is a serious condition in need of an immediate treatment plan, your odds of long-term recovery are much more positive, and you may even be able to delay more invasive treatment in some cases. Read on to learn more about what your diagnosis means as well as some of the most beneficial lung cancer treatment options for early stage lung cancer. 

What does your diagnosis mean in terms of severity?

Although the lines between cancer stages can sometimes be blurred, Stage I lung cancer involves cancer cells solely confined to one or both lungs, while Stage II cancer can include cases in which cancer cells have spread to nearby lymph nodes. In contrast, Stage III and IV cancer has usually been given more time to spread and these cancer cells have set up outposts in the lymph nodes and other organs or even bones.

By catching your cancer while it's still relatively contained, you'll have a greater likelihood of success with any of your treatment options -- from surgical excision of tumors to chemotherapy or radiation to shrink them or even just "watchful waiting" to ensure they don't grow or spread. Depending on how fast your cancer appears to be growing and your overall health, your oncologist may recommend one or more treatment paths in combination -- often either radiation then surgery or simultaneous radiation and chemotherapy. 

Those who are younger and in good health may have more aggressive treatment than their older or sicklier counterparts, even if their cancer is less widespread, because their bodies are better able to handle the potential side effects of radiation and chemo (from hair loss to nausea and vomiting). 

When should you delay treatment of your lung cancer? 

In some cases, it can make sense to put treatment off for a short period, especially if your cancer is a slow-growing variety or was caught very early. For example, if you're a heavy smoker and know you'll need to quit in order for your tumor removal surgery to be successful, you may want to put off surgery for a few months to give your lungs a chance to heal from years or decades of smoke exposure before being operated upon, while women who are diagnosed during pregnancy may want to opt to put off treatment until after they've given birth rather than be prematurely induced or undergo a medical termination.