Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer Treatment in Pasadena, CA

At Pasadena CyberKnife, our mission is to offer hope in the fight against cancer. As a leading cancer treatment center in Los Angeles, we’re proud to offer comprehensive treatment options for a wide range of cancerous conditions, including lung cancer. Our cancer doctors specialize in radiation therapy, and thanks to the breakthrough CyberKnife System, we can offer a convenient, noninvasive treatment option for many forms of lung cancer.

Overview of CyberKnife Lung Cancer Treatment

The CyberKnife Robotic Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT) System is a cutting-edge cancer treatment system that uses high-dose radiation, delivered with pinpoint accuracy, to eliminate cancerous tumor cells. And, thanks to its powerful imaging and motion-tracking technology, CyberKnife doesn’t come with many of the complications of traditional radiation therapy for lung cancer.

CyberKnife works by using a robotic arm to precisely target a tumor with a blast of radiation. The arm is able to rotate around the body to deliver radiation from almost any angle, and the system uses state-of-the-art imaging and motion-tracking software to track the position of the tumor in real-time, adjusting the robotic arm to ensure that radiation affects only the cancerous tissue.

CyberKnife achieves sub-millimeter accuracy, and treatment takes 5 days or less as opposed to up to 45 days required by more conventional radiation therapy. It’s a powerful, noninvasive option for patients who otherwise can’t undergo lung cancer surgery.

The Benefits of CyberKnife for Lung Cancer

Radiation therapy for lung cancer isn’t new, but CyberKnife creates a paradigm shift in noninvasive lung cancer treatments. The reason comes down to a fundamental truth about lung cancer: the tumor moves every time the patient breathes.

In the past, doctors had to use painful, invasive immobility devices to minimize patient movement and prevent complications. But CyberKnife eliminates the problem by tracking the movements of the tumor in real-time, then adjusting the robotic arm to account for these movements and deliver radiation directly to the tumor site. In some cases, CyberKnife can track the movement of a tumor on its own, but your treatment team may also decide to insert fiducial markers into the tumor to help the system track its location.

Fiducials are about the size of a grain of rice and are gold in color. If your doctors determine you need them to help CyberKnife track your tumor’s movements, they’ll inject three to five of them into your tumor using a small needle. The fiducials may move slightly after placement, so your treatment team will wait a week to allow time for this movement to stabilize.

What to Expect from CyberKnife Lung Cancer Treatment

The actual treatment process with CyberKnife is remarkably easy. Before beginning your radiation therapy, we’ll fit you with a treatment cradle: this is a custom-made mold of your body’s shape that will help you maintain the same exact positioning during your different treatment sessions. The cradle not only ensures that we correctly target the radiation, but also provides maximum comfort during your treatment sessions.

Once treatment begins, all you need to do is lie still. The CyberKnife System will then rotate its robotic arm to deliver your radiation dose, carefully tracking the movement of your tumor throughout. You’re free to wear any comfortable clothes you like to your treatment session, and we encourage patients to bring music to listen to during your session. When your appointment is over, you can usually return to your normal activities.

CyberKnife Lung Cancer FAQ

Want to learn more about the specifics of CyberKnife for lung cancer? Take a look at the frequently asked questions below.

Lung Cancer Treatment Options

How is Lung Cancer Treated?

Lung cancer treatment depends on the type and the stage of cancer. Lung cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation; and these are often combined to offer the most effective treatment. Options for treating a metastatic tumor depend on the stage of the primary cancer. The various lung cancer treatments are described in detail below.

Radiosurgery – Also called Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT)
The CyberKnife Robotic Body Radiotherapy System, offer patients a new option for the treatment of lung cancer. The CyberKnife® System is used to treat lung cancer patients who cannot tolerate surgery, have an inoperable tumor, or are seeking an alternative to surgery. The challenge that doctors face with tumors in the lung is that those tumors move as the patient breathes. Unlike traditional radiation therapy, the CyberKnife System precisely identifies the tumor location as the patient breathes normally, following the patients breathing pattern and treating the tumor maintaining sub-millimeter accuracy. Treatments are completed in 5 days or less. Conventional radiation therapy treatments are completed over 7 to 9 weeks, and accuracy can be 5 to 20 millimeters off target.


Surgery or surgical resection is often used to remove a tumor. For early stage lung cancer, the preferred treatment for otherwise healthy patients is a lobectomy, in which the surgeon removes a lobe of the lung. Lobectomies can be performed in two ways. One method is called a thoracotomy, in which the ribs are cut and spread to allow the surgeon to access the lobe of lung that needs to be removed. The second type of lobectomy is less invasive and done using video-assisted thorocoscopic surgery (VATS). During this procedure, small incisions are made and a camera is placed in the chest to guide the surgeon performing the surgery. Some patients with early stage lung cancer may not require that an entire lobe be removed. This procedure is called a wedge resection or segmentectomy, and can reduce the amount of normal lung tissue removed.

To be effective as possible, lung cancer surgery must not only remove the visible tumor, but eliminate any microscopic traces of the disease that remain in the surrounding tissue. Studies comparing lobectomies to wedge resections have shown that the lobectomy results in better survival rates and is more effective in removing all of a patient’s disease.

For those patients whose primary lung cancer is more advanced, as well as those who have large tumors or multiple metastatic tumors that cannot be removed by lobectomy or segmentectomy, more extensive surgery is required. In these cases, surgeons may perform a pneumonectomy, during which the entire lung is removed.

Although surgery is effective for some stages of lung cancer, patients can experience significant risk of complications, including infection, bleeding, and respiratory and cardiac problems. These complications can also lead to loss of lung function and/or a decreased quality of life.3 Open lobectomy and video assisted thorascopic surgery have local control rates and 5-year survival rates of 60-80%.4-7

Lung cancer surgery is typically used alone for patients with very small tumors and early-stage lung cancer. However, some patients may not be well enough to undergo surgery because they suffer from other cardiac or breathing problems. For later stages of lung cancer, typically stage II and higher, surgery is often combined with chemotherapy and, perhaps, radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy:
Radiation therapy, also referred to as radiotherapy, is a non-invasive procedure that uses radiation to kill lung cancer cells. Five-year survival rates for early stage primary lung cancer patients undergoing this type of treatment have been reported in the range of 10-30%, which is lower than the survival rates of patients treated with surgery.10-12

Conventional radiation therapy, called external beam radiation therapy, typically involves delivery of wide beams of radiation that encompass both the tumor and a significant amount of surrounding healthy tissue. These wide beams of radiation are necessary because tumors move as patients breathe. During this treatment, the radiation dose is limited to decrease the toxicity to the patient that can result from injuring healthy lung tissue. Therefore, conventional external beam radiation therapy is usually delivered in small doses of 30 to 40 sessions over four to six weeks. Rates of toxicity range widely in published studies,3-16 with short-term severe toxicity ranging from 10-30%13 and long-term severe toxicity (radiation pneumonitis) reported as 18%; attempts to increase the dose of radiation being delivered using conventional radiation therapy methods have resulted in even greater toxicity.15

Because tumors with the chest can move large amounts as the patient breathes, it is necessary to irradiate with wide fields that include a large amount of normal surrounding tissue during this treatment. However, several techniques – such as respiratory gating, breath holding and the use of frames – have been developed to better compensate for this tumor motion and allow for smaller radiation fields to be used.
Respiratory gating:

  • Respiratory gating is a technique in which radiation is delivered when the tumor is thought to be in a certain location during a patient’s breathing cycle. Gating makes a number of assumptions about the location of the lung tumor, such as: it is always in that same location during a specific point in a patient’s breathing pattern; a patient’s breathing pattern does not change throughout a treatment; and a patient is breathing the same during a treatment as he or she was breathing during the planning phase. In reality, many patients breathe differently throughout the treatment, particularly if they are nervous or fall asleep. These changes in breathing patterns may result in errors in radiation delivery.


Breath holding:

  • Breath holding involves a patient taking a full breath and then holding it for several seconds. As the patient holds his or her breath, the radiation beam is switched on and then turned off just before the patient begins to breathe normally again. Breath holding assumes a tumor will be in a certain location when the patient breaths in. This may not always be the case, depending on the depth of a patient’s breath. Breath holding also may be very difficult for patients with advanced lung disease.

Abdominal Compression Frames:

  • Frames enable physicians to apply pressure to a patient’s abdomen to decrease the movement of the diaphragm and chest cavity. Although frames reduce tumor movement within the chest, they do not completely eliminate it. This technique also can be uncomfortable and may be very restrictive for patients who have baseline breathing problems or advanced lung disease.

Techniques such as gating, breath holding and frames have allowed physicians to deliver much higher doses of radiation in as few as three to five sessions with a procedure called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). This alternative treatment for lung cancer has been shown to be more effective than conventional radiation therapy, with three-year survival rates ranging from 52-88%17-20 and a five-year local control rate of 95%.21Although SBRT enables doctors to spare more normal lung tissue than conventional methods, it still typically requires large margins around tumors to ensure that the radiation is delivered to the tumor and to account for the inaccuracies of gating, breath holding or frame usage.

Chemotherapy is used when cancer cells are thought to be located throughout the body or they are present in a patient’s blood or other fluids, which is often the case with metastatic lung tumors and advanced-stage lung cancer. Chemotherapy medication is delivered orally or through an IV (into a vein), and is given to a patient either as the sole treatment or in combination with surgery or radiation. Chemotherapy affects both normal tissue and the cancer cells, so patients may experience side effects, such as severe nausea and vomiting, infections, fatigue and weight loss.22 Based on randomized clinical trials chemotherapy is recommended in addition to local treatment for patients with later-stage disease.22 Disease-free 5-year survival for patients treated with chemotherapy following surgery range from 48-89% depending on how advanced the disease is.

How does Cyberknife treat Lung Tumors?

How Does the CyberKnife System Treat Lung Cancer?

The challenge that doctors face with tumors in the lung is that those tumors move as the patient breathes. The CyberKnife® Robotic Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT) System, offer patients a new option for the treatment of lung cancer. Unlike regular conventional radiation therapy, the CyberKnife System precisely identifies the tumor location as the patient breathes normally, following the patients breathing pattern and treating the tumor maintaining sub-millimeter accuracy.

Lung cancer treatment with the CyberKnife System involves a team approach, in which several specialists participate. The patient’s team may include:

  • Surgeon
  • Radiation Oncologist
  • Pulmonologist
  • Interventional Radiologist
  • Medical Physicist
  • Radiation Therapist
  • Medical Support Staff

Once the team is in place, the patient will begin preparation for CyberKnife treatment.

As part of the diagnosis, doctors will identify the location and size of the lung tumor. Depending on these results, some patients may not require the implantation of fiducial markers. The CyberKnife System will use only the identifying characteristics of the tumor itself to clearly visualize the tumor within the chest and track the tumor as the patient breathes normally.

Some tumors may require the placement of fiducials within the lung to help the CyberKnife System pinpoint the tumor’s exact location. In that case, the patient will be scheduled for a short outpatient procedure beforehand in which three to five tiny gold seeds — called fiducial markers — are inserted into the tumor or surrounding lung tissue. These markers may be placed by putting a small needle through the chest, guided by CT scan or an ultrasound. Alternatively, a camera might be passed through the patient’s mouth and into the airways or into the esophagus to allow access to the tumor. If fiducials are required, the patient must wait approximately one week before CyberKnife treatment planning can begin to ensure that fiducial movement has stabilized.

Before CyberKnife treatments can begin, patients will be fitted for a special body cradle. The cradle is made of a soft material that molds to the patient’s body and is designed to make treatment more comfortable and to ensure body position is the same for each treatment session. The patient also will be fitted with a special vest, which is worn during CyberKnife treatment and enables the robot to correlate chest motion and breathing patterns with the tumor position. The data generated with the vest allows the CyberKnife robot to precisely follow the tumor’s motion as it delivers each beam of radiation, ensuring safe and accurate radiation delivery.

While lying in the cradle, a CT scan will be performed to locate the patient’s tumor. This CT data will be used by the CyberKnife team to determine the exact size, shape and location of the tumor. A MRI or PET scan also may be necessary to fully visualize the tumor and nearby anatomy. Once the imaging is done, the patient will remove his or her vest and it will be stored with the custom-fit body cradle for use in CyberKnife treatment.

A treatment plan will be specifically designed by a medical physicist in conjunction with the patient’s doctors. Patients will not need to be present at this time. During treatment planning, the CT, MRI and/or PET scan data will be downloaded into the CyberKnife System’s treatment planning software. The medical team will determine the size of the area to be targeted by radiation and the radiation dose, as well as identifying critical structures – such as the spinal cord or vital organs – where radiation should be minimized.

At this time, the CyberKnife System will be able to calculate the optimal radiation delivery plan to treat the lung tumor(s). Each patient’s unique treatment plan will take full advantage of the CyberKnife System’s extreme maneuverability, allowing for a safe and accurate lung cancer treatment. After the treatment plan is developed, the patient will return to the CyberKnife Center for treatment. The treatment is usually delivered in one to five sessions.

For most patients, the CyberKnife treatment is a completely pain-free experience. They may dress comfortably in street clothes and the CyberKnife center may allow the patient to bring music to listen to during the treatment. The patient also may want to bring something to read or listen to during any waiting time, and be accompanied by a friend or family member to provide support before and after treatment.

When it is time for treatment, the patient will be asked to put on their vest and lie on their custom body cradle. The radiation therapist will ensure the vest is properly adjusted and that the patient is positioned correctly on the treatment couch.

As treatment begins, the location of the lung tumor will be tracked and detected continually as the patient breathes normally. The medical team will be watching every step of the way as the CyberKnife tracks the patient’s lung tumor as it moves, and safely and precisely delivers radiation to it.

The CyberKnife System’s computer-controlled robot will move around the patient’s body to various locations from which it will deliver radiation. At each position, the robot will stop. Then, special software will determine precisely where the radiation should be delivered by correlating breathing motion with the tumor. Nothing will be required of the patient during treatment, except to relax and lie as still as possible.

Once treatment is complete, most patients quickly return to their daily routines with little interruption to their normal activities. If treatment is being delivered in stages, the patient will need to return for additional treatments over the next several days as determined by their doctors. After CyberKnife treatments, most patients experience minimal side effects, which typically go away within the first week or two after treatment. Doctors will discuss all possible side effects prior to treatment. In addition, doctors may prescribe medication to control any side effects, should they occur.

After completing CyberKnife radiosurgery treatment, it is important for patients to schedule and attend any follow-up appointments. The patient should be aware that his or her tumor will not suddenly disappear. Response to lung cancer treatment varies from patient to patient. Clinical experience thus far has shown most patients respond very well to CyberKnife treatments. Doctors will monitor the outcome in the months and years following a patient’s treatment, often using CT scans or PET-CT scans.

What is Lung Cancer?

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the lung resulting in a lung tumor. If the abnormal cells originated as lung cancer cells, the resulting collection of cells is called a primary lung tumor. If the abnormal cells originated in another part of the body, such as the colon or liver, and were carried to the lungs by the blood or other bodily fluids, then it is considered a metastatic lung tumor.1

More than 215,000 cases of primary lung cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in the United States in 2008. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, and is expected to result in approximately 161,840 deaths – or about 29% of all cancer deaths – in the U.S. this year.2 About 13% of primary lung tumors are considered small cell, including oat cell cancer, mixed small cell/large cell carcinoma and combined small cell carcinoma. The remaining 87% of lung tumors are classified as non-small cell,2 which include squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.

Lung Cancer Symptoms and Detection

How is Lung Cancer Detected?

Lung cancer typically develops without early symptoms, so when symptoms do occur, the cancer is often advanced. Patients may experience:

  • Persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Painful breathing or coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Or other symptoms

In its early stages, primary lung cancer does not usually cause symptoms. Unfortunately, most primary lung cancers are diagnosed at late stages.

Primary or Metastatic lung cancer can be diagnosed a number of different ways.

  • Standard chest X-ray.
  • CT (Computed Tomography) scans
  • PET-CT (Positron Emission Tomography-Computed Tomography) scans
  • MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) also can be used to further identify a lung tumor.

A lung cancer diagnosis can be confirmed by either performing a biopsy in which a small piece of tissue is examined or by analyzing fluid to determine if it contains a protein that is specific to tumor cells. Doctors then determine the “stage,” or extent of the disease, by establishing how big the tumor is and how much it has spread.

CyberKnife Lung Cancer Videos

Find out more about how CyberKnife can treat lung cancer by watching these informational videos.

Lung Tumor Treatment: Cyberknife Patient Education

Cyberknife Benefits Explained By Thoracic Surgeons

CyberKnife Patient Testimonials

We’re proud to offer world-class CyberKnife treatment at our Pasadena cancer center, but we never want you to take our word for it. See what real patients have to say by watching the video testimonials below.

Cyberknife Lung Tumor Treatment: Meet Jean 92 years old

Patient Testimonial: Judith’s Lung Cancer Reocurrence

Contact Your Los Angeles Cancer Center

CyberKnife offers a new hope for patients battling lung cancer – even when other doctors deem the cancer inoperable. If you’d like to learn more about how Pasadena CyberKnife can help you beat cancer through noninvasive radiotherapy, contact us today to schedule a treatment consultation. We can’t wait to hear from you, and we look forward to helping you reclaim the healthy, normal life you deserve.

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