Triaging early-stage lung cancer patients into non-surgical pathways: who, when, and what?
More lung cancer patients are being diagnosed at an earlier stage due to improved diagnostic imaging techniques, a trend that is expected to accelerate with the dissemination of lung cancer screening. Surgical resection has always been considered the standard treatment for patients with early-stage non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, non-surgical treatment options for patients with early-stage NSCLC have evolved significantly over the past decade with many new and exciting alternative treatments now available. These alternative treatments include radiofrequency ablation (RFA), microwave ablation (MWA), percutaneous cryoablation therapy (PCT), photodynamic therapy (PDT) and external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), including stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) and accelerated hypofractionated radiation therapy. We describe the established alternatives to surgical resection, their advantages and disadvantages, potential complications and efficacy. We then describe the optimal treatment approach for patients with early-stage NSCLC based on tumor operability, size and location. Finally, we discuss future directions and whether any alternative therapies will challenge surgical resection as the treatment of choice for patients with operable early-stage lung cancer.