Find out about your options for lung cancer treatments, and complementary treatments that can be used alongside medical care.

Download the whole lung cancer booklet

Our new booklet 'Understanding lung cancer' is available now.

Understanding Lung Cancer booklet 2022
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Download Section Five of our lung cancer booklet: Lung cancer treatments

  • Research shows that if you are a smoker and you quit smoking, your treatment is more effective.
  • Depending on the stage of your cancer, your state of health and your preferences, treatment for lung cancer may include:
    • surgery
    • radiation treatment
    • chemotherapy
    • targeted treatments and immunotherapy
    • palliative care and supportive care
  • Complementary treatments are healing practices or products that can be used alongside medical care.
  • Traditional Māori healing methods can include rongoā Māori, romiromi or mirimiri, massage therapy and spiritual healing.
  • Traditional Pacific healing treats the whole person, including your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing and recognises the importance of community wellbeing.
  • If you are thinking about using complementary, traditional Māori or Pacific treatments, please talk to your cancer treatment team.

  • E ai ki ngā rangahau, mehemea he tangata kai paipa koe, ā, ka mutu tō kai paipa, ka whai kiko o maimoatanga.
  • Kei te āhua o te wāhanga o tō matepukupuku, te āhua o tō hauora, me ōu hiahiatanga, tērā pea ka whai tō maimoa i ētahi o ēnei:
    • hāparapara
    • maimoa iraruke
    • hahau
    • Maimoa whakahāngai me te haumanu-taunga
    • Atawhai taurima me te manaaki tautoko, he kōwhiringa rānei o ēnei rurua.
  • He mahi whakaora, he hua rānei ngā maimoatanga kīnaki kīhāi e whai wāhanga i te taha o te manaaki hauora aro whānui.
  • Kei roto i ngā mahi whakaoranga Māori taketake ko te rongoā Māori, te romiromi, te mirimiri rānei, te haumanu romiromi me te whakaoranga ā-wairua.
  • Ka maimoa te whakaoranga Te moana-nui-ā-Kiwa taketake i te tangata katoa, tae noa ki tō oranga hinengaro, oranga aronganui, oranga tinana, me tō oranga wairua.
  • Mehemea e whakaaro ana koe ki te whakamahi i te maimoa whakaoranga Māori taketake, whakaoranga Te-moana-nui-ā-Kiwa, tēnā koa kōrerohia ēnei me tō rōpū maimoa matepukupuku.
Lung cancer treatment

Treatment options

Your cancer treatment team will advise you about the possible treatments for your lung cancer.

Depending on the stage of your cancer, your health and your preferences, treatment may include a combination of:

  • surgery
  • radiation treatment
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted treatment
  • immunotherapy
  • palliative care

Sometimes the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. When this is not possible, there are treatment options that may reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

There are treatment options for different types of lung cancer including:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Small cell lung cancer


If you are a smoker and you quit, your treatment is more effective. Speak to your treatment team if you need support to stop smoking before you begin treatment.


If you have been diagnosed with early-stage, non-small cell lung cancer, you may be offered surgery to remove the cancer.

The three main types of surgery for lung cancer are:

  1. Lobectomy (a lobe of the lung is removed)
  2. Pneumonectomy (one whole lung is removed)
  3. Wedge resection / segmentectomy (only part of the lung is removed)

The physio regularly came to help me get out of bed after my surgery. Eventually, the physio walked me around the room. By the end of the last day in hospital, I could walk around the room myself



Chemotherapy is medication used to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. It affects cells throughout your body.

Chemotherapy is often done as the standard first treatment for most people with small cell lung cancer. Chemotherapy is given into a vein (IV) or as tablets. Chemotherapy side effects vary.

Find out more about chemotherapy

Radiation treatment

Radiation treatment is the use of x-ray beams to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth.

Radiation treatment only affects the part of the body that the beams are aimed at. Treatment is carefully planned to do as little harm as possible to your normal body tissue.

Find out more about radiation treatment

Find out more about the National Travel Assistance programme

Targeted treatment

Targeted treatment affects the damaged genes or proteins of cancer cells to stop the cancer growing and spreading.

Targeted treatment medication travels through the bloodstream. The signs and symptoms of cancer reduce or disappear and damage to healthy cells is minimal.

Find out more about targeted treatment


Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps your own immune system to fight cancer.

Currently, in lung cancer treatment, immunotherapy is mostly used for people who have advanced cancer.

Some types of advanced non-small cell lung cancer may respond to immunotherapy treatment. Immunotherapy is not suitable for everyone, so talk to your treatment team to find out whether you might benefit from it.

Unfortunately, these treatments are expensive and not all options that might be helpful for the management of your lung cancer are funded by Pharmac.

In New Zealand as of 1 April 2023, immunotherapies pembrolizumab (Keytruda), atezolizumab (Tecentriq) and durvalumab (Imfinzi) are funded for people who meet the Special Authority criteria set by Pharmac.

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is funded as a first-line treatment for advanced non-small cell lung cancer, atezolizumab (Tecentriq) is funded as a second or later-line treatment for advanced non-small cell lung cancer, and durvalumab (Imfinzi) is funded for stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer.

Nivolumab (Opdivo) has been approved for use but is not funded by Pharmac.

Palliative treatment and supportive care

Palliative treatment and care is for people with cancer of any stage that focuses on maintaining or improving quality of life rather than curing your cancer.

This includes the management of physical symptoms, cultural, emotional and spiritual support, and guidance to help you plan ahead.

Advance care planning

An important part of planning ahead is preparing an advance care plan to help you and your whānau talk about the treatments and care you may want towards the end of your life.

Find out more about advance care planning

Traditional Māori and Pacific healing

Traditional healing has been a central part of Māori culture for generations.

Values, belief systems and teachings from kaumātua and tohunga have seen Māori focus on total wellbeing, which includes taha tinana, taha hinengaro, taha wairua and taha whānau (the physical domain, the domain of the mind and behaviour, the spiritual domain and the whānau or social domain).

Traditional healing is also important for Pacific peoples to help in their recovery.

It also takes a holistic approach to treating the person, where mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs are looked after together.

If you are thinking about using these treatments, please talk about them with your cancer treatment team.

Find out more about traditional healing

Hauora Māori Mai rā anō te hauora Māori i noho ai hei wāhanga ō te ahurea Māori. Nā ngā uaratanga, te pūnaha whakapono me ngā akoranga a ngā kaumātua me ngā tohunga i kitea ai te arotahi a te Māori ki te oranga kotahi e rarawhi ana i te taha tinana, te taha hinengaro, te taha wairua me te taha whānau.

Ka huri ētahi Māori ki ngā kaupapa hauora Māori i ētahi wā mēnā he uaua ki te whakatau ko tēhea, ko tēhea ō ngā momo maimoa me whai. Tae noa rā ki te rongoā Māori, te romiromi, te mirimiri rānei, hei tauira atu. Ka hāngai katoa ki tarutaru otaota whenua me ngā rākau, te haumanu romiromi me te whakaoranga ā-wairua.

Mehemea he uaua ki te kōrero i ō hiahia ki ngā kaiwhakarato maimoatanga, rapua tētahi tangata hei kaitaunaki mōu, kia āhei ai ngā tohunga hauora me matanga maimoa ō ngā hōhipera ki te mahi ngātahi

Complementary and alternative treatment

It is important to discuss any additional treatments you are using with your treatment team.

Some treatments may be harmful if they are taken at the same time as medical treatments.

Complementary treatments are healing practices or products that are not usually part of standard medical care but may be used to complement medical treatments. E.g. massage, meditation, acupuncture.

Alternative treatments are used instead of medical treatment. Some alternative therapists may claim their treatments are cancer cures – this is very unlikely to be true.

Find out more about complementary and alternative medicine


Last updated: April 17, 2023