“Absolutely, yes. All of our therapies, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy for lung cancer come with risks and benefits,” says radiation oncologist Russell K. Hales, M.D. of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center on the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus. “We use those therapies only after careful evaluation of the risks of the therapy, versus the benefits of the therapy.”
Hales notes, “There are long term effects, or dangers, of radiation treatment, but in lung cancer, the benefits of radiation usually outweigh these risks. Individual risks would be really driven by an individual patient, and the lung cancer treatment that they're getting."
Specific side effects for lung cancer patients that undergo radiation treatment include:
• having pain or difficulty with swallowing, from irritation of the esophagus, during radiation therapy;
• inflammation of the lung, or pneumonitis, after radiation treatment, which usually goes away within a few months;
• long-term effects of radiation, such as scar tissue that forms in the lung, a rare chance of injury or damage to the heart, or other structures in the chest.
“These side effects sound scary, and treatment innovations can help reduce the likelihood of these side effects occurring,” Hales says, “but even in the most carefully delivered radiation treatment, there is a risk of side effects.”