Advances in radiotherapy techniques and delivery for non-small cell lung cancer: benefits of intensity-modulated radiation therapy, proton therapy, and stereotactic body radiation therapy

Transl Lung Cancer Res. 2017 Apr;6(2):131-147. doi: 10.21037/tlcr.2017.04.04.


The 21st century has seen several paradigm shifts in the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in early-stage inoperable disease, definitive locally advanced disease, and the postoperative setting. A key driver in improvement of local disease control has been the significant evolution of radiation therapy techniques in the last three decades, allowing for delivery of definitive radiation doses while limiting exposure of normal tissues. For patients with locally-advanced NSCLC, the advent of volumetric imaging techniques has allowed a shift from 2-dimensional approaches to 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3DCRT). The next generation of 3DCRT, intensity-modulated radiation therapy and volumetric-modulated arc therapy (VMAT), have enabled even more conformal radiation delivery. Clinical evidence has shown that this can improve the quality of life for patients undergoing definitive management of lung cancer. In the early-stage setting, conventional fractionation led to poor outcomes. Evaluation of altered dose fractionation with the previously noted technology advances led to advent of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). This technique has dramatically improved local control and expanded treatment options for inoperable, early-stage patients. The recent development of proton therapy has opened new avenues for improving conformity and the therapeutic ratio. Evolution of newer proton therapy techniques, such as pencil-beam scanning (PBS), could improve tolerability and possibly allow reexamination of dose escalation. These new progresses, along with significant advances in systemic therapies, have improved survival for lung cancer patients across the spectrum of non-metastatic disease. They have also brought to light new challenges and avenues for further research and improvement.

Keywords: Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT); proton therapy; stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT).

Publication types

  • Review