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Treatment research for lung cancer

Find out about clinical trials looking at current and new treatments for lung cancer.


Radiotherapy can help to control and reduce the symptoms of lung cancer. But it doesn’t work well for everyone. Researchers are looking at ways to improve it and reduce the side effects. This includes research into:

  • predicting who will respond to radiotherapy before they start treatment
  • who is at the most risk of side effects
  • whether having radiotherapy to the chest after surgery helps prevent the cancer coming back
  • whether giving different doses helps the treatment to work better

Researchers are looking at a targeted type of radiotherapy called stereotactic body radiotherapy treatment (SBRT). SBRT directs radiotherapy beams at the cancer from different positions around the body. It gives a very high dose of radiation to the cancer and a much lower dose to surrounding tissues. With this type of radiotherapy you have fewer sessions.


Chemotherapy is the main treatment for small cell lung cancer and is also commonly used for non small cell lung cancer. Research continues into improving the timing and doses of drugs used. And researchers also hope to find new combinations of drugs that might give better results.

Examples of chemotherapy being tested in trials in the UK include:

  • pemetrexed
  • carboplatin
  • irinotecan
  • paclitaxel
  • cisplatin
  • vinorelbine

Researchers are also trying to combine different types of treatment in new ways to improve results. Some are combining chemotherapy with targeted cancer drugs in clinical trials to see if certain combinations work better at treating lung cancer.

A common problem with many cancers is that chemotherapy works well at first but then it stops working so well. Researchers are interested in finding out why chemotherapy can stop working.


Doctors can remove early lung cancer with surgery. There are 2 main ways to remove a lobe of the lung (lobectomy):

  • open surgery, which means making a cut in the chest
  • video assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATs), which means making several smaller cuts in the chest

Surgeons currently use both types of surgery but they don’t know which works best.

A study is comparing these 2 types of surgery to find out:

  • what patients think of keyhole and open surgery
  • whether there are different side effects
  • what the cost difference is

Targeted cancer drugs

Targeted cancer drugs change the way that cells work and they help the body control the growth of cancer. Some targeted drugs seek out and destroy cancer cells. Other drugs help the body to attack the cancer.

Research has found that some targeted drugs can help to control advanced cancer for some time. Scientists are now looking at using these drugs:

  • with radiotherapy
  • with chemotherapy
  • in cancer that has come back after a first treatment

Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are a type of targeted cancer drug. They recognise abnormal proteins on cancer cells. They can:

  • change how the cancer cell works
  • take chemotherapy or radiation into the cancer cell to kill it
  • make it easier for the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells

Monoclonal antibodies that researchers are looking at for lung cancer include nivolumab and ipilimumab.

PARP inhibitors

These are drugs that block proteins that help cells repair their DNA. Researchers are looking at the PARP inhibitor olaparib in people with lung cancer.


Vaccines are a newer way of treating cancer, which could make the immune system attack the cancer cells. A study is looking at using a vaccine and chemotherapy to treat people with  advanced lung cancer.

CimaVax lung cancer vaccine

CimaVax is a vaccine developed in Cuba for non small cell lung cancer. In the UK it is called an EGF – PTI or EGF vaccine.

The vaccine targets a protein called epidermal growth factor (EGF). Some cancers make the body produce too much EGF so that the cells grow and divide uncontrollably.

CimaVax encourages the body to make antibodies that recognise and bind to EGF. This stops the EGF attaching to the receptors on cancer cells, so there's no signal telling the cancer cells to grow and divide. 

There have been some promising results using CimaVax in Cuba. Research has shown that the vaccine is safe and it improved survival for a group of lung cancer patients. Research is going on in the UK into using the vaccine with chemotherapy.

We need more results from large trials before we know how well CimaVax works for non small cell lung cancer, whether it's better than treatments we already have, and which patients are most likely to benefit from it.

Microwave treatment research

Doctors are looking into using microwave treatment for lung cancer. This is called microwave ablation. There is evidence from some studies that microwave treatment can help to control a cancer in the lung for a time. But there is no evidence at the moment that this procedure helps people to live longer or improves their quality of life.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) assessed microwave treatment. They say that doctors can use it to treat patients with lung cancer. But they must explain that it is not clear how much it will help them and that we need more research.

Stratified medicine

Stratified medicine means looking at large groups of cancer patients to try and find ways of predicting which treatments cancers are likely to respond to. It involves looking in detail at the cancer cells and their genetic make up. Researchers want to find out whether some treatments are more likely to work in cancers that have particular changes to their genes.

Cancer Research UK is looking at a number of new drugs to treat non small cell lung cancer. The treatments depend on changes in genes in the cancer cells.

It takes time to develop new tests to find the genetic changes in cells. We have to make sure that any new test is sensitive at picking up any changes, and is accurate and reliable. It will be some time before more people can have treatment based on the genetic make up of their cancer.

Last reviewed: 
16 Aug 2017
  • Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Database
    Accessed August 2017

  • Crizotinib versus Chemotherapy in Advanced ALK-Positive Lung Cancer
    AT Shaw and others
    New England Journal of Medicine, 2013. Volume 368

  • Non-small cell lung cancer- Best Practice Guidance
    BMJ, 2016

  • Microwave ablation for treating primary lung cancer and metastases in the lung
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), November 2013

  • CiMAvax-eGF: A New Therapeutic vaccine for Advanced Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Patients

    D Saavedra and T Crombet

    Frontiers of Immunology, 2017, Volume 8

  • CIMAvax EGF vaccine for stage IIIb/IV non-small cell lung carcinoma

    JY Cheng and R Kananathan

    Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, 2012, Vol 8, Issue 12

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