Lung cancer: current diagnosis and treatment

Stefan Hammerschmidt, Hubert Wirtz
Deutsches Ärzteblatt International 2009, 106 (49): 809-18; quiz 819-20

BACKGROUND: Much progress has been made in the treatment of lung cancer in the last ten years (adjuvant chemotherapy, targeted therapy, individualized therapy). Nonetheless, lung cancer is still the leading cause of death due to cancer and thus remains a major medical, scientific, and social problem.

METHOD: This review is based on national and international recommendations and selected articles from the literature.

RESULTS: Cigarette smoking is the major pathogenic factor for lung cancer. Lung cancer can be divided into two major types that differ in their biological behavior, small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Whenever possible, the diagnosis should be confirmed by biopsy, the extent of disease should be documented in detail (international TNM classification/staging), and the patient's functional level should be assessed with a view toward treatment planning. Surgery for non-small cell lung cancer with curative intent is possible up to stage IIIA, while stage IIIB is the domain of radiotherapy. Surgery for small cell lung cancer with curative intent is possible for rare cases in early stages (T1N0 and T2N0, i.e., stage IA and IB). As long as small cell lung cancer is restricted to one side of the chest, simultaneous radiation therapy and chemotherapy are indicated. If a malignant pleural effusion or distant metastases are present, both lung cancers are treated palliatively with platinum-based chemotherapy.

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