Cancer is a group of diseases that develop when cells in the body divide uncontrollably. A normal cell cycle involves regular cell growth and division to replace cells that are either old or damaged. When abnormal cells grow and divide without stopping, they clump together and form a tumor, or cancer. Lung cancer, which is cancer that begins in the lungs, is responsible for the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among both women and men in the United States.
There are several types of lung cancer:
- Non-small cell lung cancer: Non-small cell lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of lung cancer, responsible for roughly 85 percent of all lung cancer diagnoses. This category of diagnoses is used to describe different types of lung cancer that behave similarly.
- Small cell lung cancer: Small cell lung cancer constitutes approximately 10 to 15 percent of lung cancer diagnoses, and is almost primarily diagnosed in smokers.
- Lung carcinoid tumor: Lung carcinoid tumors are rare, and are responsible for less than five percent of lung cancer diagnoses.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
In the early stages of lung cancer, individuals may not experience any symptoms. As the disease progresses, symptoms that may be experienced include:
- Constant fatigue
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- A cough that does not go away
- Coughing up blood
- Unexpected weight loss
- Bone pain
- Pleural effusion (fluid in the lungs)
Causes of Lung Cancer
Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure are the biggest risks factor for developing lung cancer. For individuals who have never smoked, or who have not had prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, the exact causes of lung cancer may not be clear.
Additional risk factors that contribute to lung cancer include:
- Family history of lung cancer
- Exposure to asbestos and carcinogenic substances
What to Expect at Your Appointment
During your appointment, your doctor will ask you to describe your symptoms and to provide a complete medical history, as well as a family medical history. If your doctor suspects that you may have lung cancer, he/she may prescribe various diagnostic tests, such as:
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as a CT scan, an MRI scan, or a PET scan provide detailed images of the chest region. These images allow physicians to detect abnormal growths or tissue behavior. If lung cancer is diagnosed, imaging tests can also be used to determine the stage of cancer.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure used to collect a small sample of tissue from the lung. The tissue sample is then analyzed in a laboratory for the presence of lung cancer cells.
- Sputum cytology: For patients who have a cough that produces sputum (phlegm), your doctor may want to collect a sample of the sputum. This sample is analyzed in a laboratory for abnormal or cancerous cells.
Non-Surgical Treatments for Lung Cancer
Treatment will be determined based on the type of lung cancer diagnosed, the stage of cancer, the overall health of the patient, and treatment goals of the patient.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells and to shrink tumors in a specific area of the body.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses a medication or a combination of two or more medications to kill cancer cells throughout the body, meaning that it can be used to treat cancer that has metastasized or spread.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy works to help the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer cells. This type of therapy is generally prescribed for individuals diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy involves the use of medications that target a specific process that allows cancer cells to divide and spread.
Surgical Treatment for Lung Cancer and Post-Treatment
Recommended surgical procedures will be determined based on the stage of lung cancer as well as the severity of symptoms. Surgical treatments used to treat lung cancer include:
- Wedge resection: A wedge resection procedure removes the portion of the lung affected by cancer in addition to a small portion of healthy tissue to ensure complete removal of the cancerous tissue.
- Segmental resection: The lungs are composed of lobes. The right lung has three lobes and the left lung has two lobes. A segmental resection procedure removes a portion of the lung, but not an entire lobe.
- Lobectomy: The right lung has three lobes and the left lung has two lobes. A lobectomy procedure is performed to remove one entire portion of one lung.
- Pneumonectomy: A pneumonectomy is performed to remove an entire lung.
These procedures can be performed using open techniques or minimally invasive techniques, such as video-assisted thoracic surgery or robotic-assisted thoracic surgery. The type of surgery recommended will vary for each patient and will depend on the location, size, and stage of cancer as well as the overall health of the patient.
Make an Appointment
For an appointment with a specialist, call 202-877-3627.