By Foster Lasley, MD, as told to Kara Mayer Robinson  

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

You may still have treatment options like radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Nonsurgical treatments can lead to good outcomes and they’re commonly used around the world today.



What’s Inoperable Lung Cancer?

Inoperable lung cancer is simply a tumor that surgery can’t treat, which could be because your cancer is in a difficult spot to reach, it’s spread outside your lungs, or you have other serious health conditions. 

For example, if your lungs aren’t healthy enough in general, or you have a prior condition like heart disease, it can make surgery too risky.

How Do You Treat Inoperable Lung Cancer?

It’s up to you and your doctor to decide which options are best for you. Every person is different, so your best treatment plan is 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?

Lung cancer treatment continues to improve thanks to ongoing improvements in detection and treatment. 

CT scans and other screening methods are becoming more and more capable of detecting tumors early on, when they’re more treatable. 

Different combinations of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy are being tested in clinical trials to figure out the best order and period of time for each treatment. 

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

What’s Coming in the Near Future?

There’s a lot of research in the works.

Current and upcoming clinical trials are looking at:

  • How to tailor treatment to individual cancer types
  • How to treat higher numbers of metastatic sites
  • Improving detection of small sites of distant metastases so that they can be treated 

Experts are also discussing how to handle metastases to the brain. Doctors have different opinions on the best approach.

Exciting research is being done to look at the use of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)  in combination with checkpoint inhibitors. SBRT is a type of radiotherapy that uses 3D imaging to target tumors all over your body. Checkpoint inhibitors are a type of drug that blocks proteins found in some cancer cells. 

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

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

How Do Disparities in Health and Health Care Impact Inoperable Lung Cancer?

Unfortunately, recent research shows racial disparities for minorities in how long they have to wait for cancer care. 

Many wealthy communities in the U.S. have an abundance of medical resources at their disposal. They’re also more concentrated around major cities. 

But this means lower income areas, which have more people of color, are comparatively underserved. When access is difficult, and a larger area with more people only has a few cancer care locations, this can create a bottleneck and longer wait times for care.

To combat this, public and private practices must make an effort to establish sites in these lower income and rural areas so that they’re closer to underserved communities. 

We work hard in my practice to make sure patients get the same care regardless of race, ethnicity, and background, in a way that’s personalized to their specific needs and health conditions.

What Can You Do to Manage the Stigma of Lung Cancer and Other Mental Health Concerns?

People may assume your cancer is self-inflicted due to smoking. But it can happen even if you’ve never smoked a cigarette. There are plenty of other factors that play a role, 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 role in holistic care. 

If you lose hope or feel like your quality of life is getting worse, it can have a negative effect on your emotional and physical health. This can lead to a lack of exercise and high levels of stress, which can harm your treatment process and outcomes. 

To help with this, I recommend finding a support group in your area. There are more and more popping up across the nation. If you can’t find one locally, there are many online communities willing to help and provide resources during your treatment process. 

It’s also a good idea to exercise, eat right, and try to live your life as normal. Doing so helps with positivity and overall happiness, which can stave off stress and depression. A positive outlook and can-do attitude go a long way in helping to achieve a better outcome.

What’s the Outlook for Inoperable Lung Cancer?

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

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