Lung cancer is a complex cancer which often goes undetected until its later stages. It is the number one cause of death from cancer in both men and women and smoking is the main risk factor. Lung cancer causes more deaths than prostate, breast and colorectal cancers combined. 

At Washington Cancer Institute, our experts are focused on reducing these numbers and improving treatment of lung cancer using precisely targeted radiation combined with minimally invasive procedures and therapies which target specific tumor characteristics. For long time smokers, we offer low dose CT scans to screen for lung cancer. 

Our cancer institute features an experienced team of lung cancer specialists including medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, thoracic surgeons, pulmonologists, pulmonary interventionists, radiologists, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and nurses to develop the most effective, personalized care plan for each patient. This team of providers includes nurse navigators to help guide you through treatment. Whenever possible, we also provide care as close as possible to your home or office.

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Understanding Lung Cancer

Most lung cancers start in the lining of the bronchi, tiny tubes that connect to your windpipe (trachea), but they also can begin in the trachea, bronchioles (small branches off bronchi) or alveoli (small sacs off bronchioles). This cancer often takes many years to develop. As the lung cancer grows, cancerous cells can break away and spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis.

This type of cancer is a life threatening disease because it often spreads before it is detected. But when caught early, up to 80 percent of lung cancers are curable. 

There are several types:

Non Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

  • The most common type of lung cancer, accounting for almost 80%
  • There are several types of NSCLC
    • Squamous cell carcinoma
    • Large cell carcinoma
    • Adenocarcinoma
    • Carcinoid
  • Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) accounts for about 20 percent of all lung cancers.
  • Mixed Small Cell/Large Cell Cancer occurs when the cancer has features of both types.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Lung cancer does not always cause symptoms, especially in its earlier stages. But other people can experience:

  • coughing that does not resolve within a few weeks
  • coughing up blood
  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • trouble breathing or swallowing
  • wheezing
  • hoarseness
  • swelling in the face and/or neck veins 

Other conditions can also cause these symptoms, so it’s important to see your MedStar Health doctor to identify a cause and seek treatment if necessary.

Lung Cancer Screening

The United States Preventative Services Task Force recently recommended annual low dose CT chest scan to screen for lung cancer in at risk individuals.  Our cancer institute can review and facilitate those screenings and guide patients through the process of evaluation if any abnormalities arise.

Patients who should consider annual CT chest screening for lung cancer: 

  • If you are between 55 and 80 years old
  • Still smoke or quit within the past 15 years
  • AND have a 30 pack year or more smoking history
    • How to determine your pack years:
      • Number of years you smoked X number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day = your pack years

        • 20 years X 1 1/2 packs per day = 30 pack years
        • 30 years X 1 pack per day = 30 pack years
        • 20 years X 2 packs per day = 40 pack years
        • 15 years X 2 packs per day = 30 pack years

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover lung cancer screenings in long time smokers. Medicare also provides coverage of this screening for smokers in this high risk group.

Lung Cancer Risks

The number one cause of lung cancer is smoking cigarettes and tobacco use. Pipe and cigar smokers are still much more likely to get the disease than non smokers. Second hand smoke (breathing other people's cigarette smoke) increases your risk of lung cancer too, but that risk is still much less than if you smoke yourself.  85% to 90% of lung cancers are linked to cigarettes, cigars and pipes. The risk depends on how early you started, how much you smoked and how many years you used tobacco. Once you stop, the risk lowers over time as the years pass.

Other risk factors:

  • Exposure to Secondhand Smoke
  • Radon, an invisible, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in soil and rocks
  • Asbestos, chromium, nickel, arsenic, soot or tar
  • Air pollution
  • Family history of lung cancer
  • Previous radiation therapy to the breast or chest
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  • Beta carotene supplement consumption, combined with heavy smoking

Lung Cancer at Washington Cancer Institute

At Washington Cancer Institute, we address the needs of patients with known or suspected lung cancer. Our experts are dedicated to your lung health care from offering low dose CT chest screening for lung cancer, to advanced and minimally invasive evaluations of lung nodules, through to cutting edge surgical treatments and personalized oncologic therapies. Learn more about lung cancer treatments at the Washington Cancer Institute.