Medical Oncology for Lung Cancer

Medical oncology treats lung cancer using chemotherapy or other medications.    

The medical oncologists you’ll see are Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) medical oncologists, located within the Halvorson Cancer Center in Kirkland. That means you'll benefit from their cancer-fighting expertise without having to fight traffic to get to the SCCA facilities in downtown Seattle.

For lung cancer, chemotherapy can serve several purposes:

  • It can be used to shrink your tumor prior to surgery.
  • It can be used after surgery to eradicate any remaining cancer cells.
  • It can be used in combination with radiation therapy, and given in the same treatment cycle, if you are not a candidate for surgery.
  • It is used once lung cancer has metastasized, or spread outside the lungs to other parts of the body, to destroy cancer cells that may be lurking, unseen, or that can't be treated with surgery
  • It can be used to ease cancer symptoms in advanced cases, with the goal of improving your quality of life or help you feel better. This is known as palliative chemotherapy.

A team approach to chemotherapy

EvergreenHealth and its SCCA medical oncologists want to make sure you are armed with all the information you need about your chemotherapy. 

We have special education visits, called chemotherapy teaching sessions, that emphasize a team approach to your treatments.

In addition to your medical oncologist, you'll meet with:

  • a chemotherapy pharmacist, to learn about the chemotherapy drugs you'll be given
  • your chemotherapy nurse, who addition to administering your drugs, will educate you about the specifics of your cancer and the side effects to watch for 

What type of chemotherapy will you receive?

The type of chemotherapy you receive will depend on several factors:

  • where your lung cancer is located
  • if your lung cancer has spread outside your lungs
  • your general overall health

And because some drugs work better together than alone, often two or more drugs are given at the same time. This is called combination chemotherapy.

How long will my chemotherapy treatments take?

The duration of each treatment depends on your cancer, and the number and the amount of medications prescribed.

Chemotherapy for lung cancer is often given every three to four weeks in cycles. How many cycles depends on how advanced your cancer is, and the type of drugs used.

These treatment periods are alternated with rest periods to give your body a chance to build healthy new cells and regain its strength.


How is chemotherapy given?

The vast majority of the drugs are given through an IV infusion at the Halvorson Cancer Center. 

For your comfort, the infusion center's 21 treatment suites offer private rooms and treatment bays with garden views, heated comfortable recliners and a nourishment center filled with healthy snacks.

Most of the treatment suites offer your own TV to watch. You can also listen to your favorite music on your headphones or ear buds.

What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

With advances in the last two decades, the most commonly-used chemotherapy drugs for lung cancer now have minimal nausea and vomiting. You may also be given anti-nausea medications.

Fatigue is another common side effect. The stress and worry of having cancer can mean you may be getting less sleep.

Some chemotherapy drugs can also change your white and red blood cell counts; those will be closely monitored to ensure that you don't become anemic. Often a change in diet and nutrition can help offset some of the fatigue-inducing effects of chemotherapy.  Learn more about how our oncology dieticians can help you.

Symptom management

You will also have access to EvergreenHealth's Palliative Medicine experts, who can help with symptom management and comfort care.

Will I lose my hair?

Unlike with breast cancer treatment, many of the drugs used for lung cancer chemotherapy don't automatically cause significant hair loss. But it can happen.

Many of our patients have had some success in reducing hair loss, and increasing the rate of regrowth after treatment ends, by using a cooling cap. Cooling caps are tightly fitting, strap-on, helmet-type hats filled with a gel coolant that's chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees. 

The Halvorson Cancer Center has two cooling cap systems available; you will need to pay for your cap. While there still is some hair loss, patients using the cooling cap typically don't need a wig.

One thing to note about using the cooling cap system is that it does add an extra two hours to the length of your stay during each chemotherapy treatment. You'll need to cool down before your treatment, and then stay up to 90 minutes after treatment so the coolant keeps protecting your skull while the drug is still circulating.

Many patients simply note some thinning of their hair and a change in its texture during chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer.

If you do experience hair loss, The Boutique, located in our Cancer Resource Center, has a selection of new and gently used wigs, along with a lovely selection of hats and head scarves. Everything is free for Halvorson Cancer Center patients.  Learn more about The Boutique.

Do I need chemotherapy?

Not every lung cancer patient will need chemotherapy. Our Seattle Cancer Care Alliance medical oncologists will utilize their expertise to determine the benefit of chemotherapy relative to the size and stage of your tumor.

Learn more about your treatment options for lung cancer:

Radiation Oncology
Gene Therapy
Clinical Trials