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The maze of lung cancer diagnostic paths and treatment options can be daunting; especially at a time when the emotional impact of a diagnosis can be overwhelming.
Western Surgical Group’s hope is that you will find comfort and confidence in the caring hands of our talented team. Our fellowship-trained dedicated surgical specialists work side by side with oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and your primary care providers to provide you a positive experience and the best possible outcome.
It’s a collaborative approach that puts you at the center of everything we do.
We’ll listen. We’ll answer questions. And, we’ll provide you a clear road map for your entire treatment process. We look forward to seeing you.
It is critical to seek an integrated medical team that might consist of your primary care physician, pulmonologist, oncologist, radiologist, pathologist, and thoracic surgeon. These medical experts together can successfully determine the best care possible for your specific type of lung cancer.
Lung cancer is the deadliest type of cancer for both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.
Although the rate of diagnosis of lung cancer is decreasing in men, these rates are increasing in women. This trend is explained by the changing pattern of cigarette smoking over the past 30 years.
Lung cancer is usually classified as “small cell” and “non-small cell” types. Non-small cell cancers account for 85%, and both usually occur in smokers. However, adenocarcinoma, a form of non-small cell cancer, may also occur in people who never smoked.
The different types of cancer behave differently in the body. Treatment decisions are based in part on the type of cancer and the stage. Staging is a way of describing the extent of cancer– is it still limited to one lung, or has it spread? Health-care teams plan treatment, in part, according to the stage of cancer.
Small cell lung cancer has two stages:
- Limited stage: The cancer is found in just one part of a lung and nearby lymph nodes.
- Extensive stage: The cancer has spread to other parts of the chest or body.
The stages of non–small cell lung cancer are:
- Stage I: The cancer is limited to one part of one lung. It hasn’t spread anywhere else.
- Stage II: The cancer is in one lung and nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage III: Cancer is in the lungs and the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest. The term Stage IIIA usually describes lung cancer that has spread to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest as the cancer, or that may have spread to adjacent structures like the chest wall, esophagus, or heart. Stage IIIB means that the cancer has spread from the lungs to the lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest or above the collarbone.
- Stage IV: The cancer has spread to either the other lung or to another part of the body.
Risk factors for lung cancer
- Age: Lung cancer is more common in older adults. It is rare in people under age 45.
- Cigarette smoking: the leading cause of lung cancer. The more cigarettes you smoke per day and the earlier you started smoking, the greater your risk of lung cancer. There is no evidence that smoking low-tar cigarettes lowers the risk. However, lung cancer has occurred in people who have never smoked.
- Secondhand smoke (breathing the smoke of others) increases your risk of lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 3,000 non-smoking adults will die each year from lung cancer related to breathing secondhand smoke
- High levels of air pollution
- High levels of arsenic in drinking water
- Radon gas
- Family history of lung cancer
- Radiation therapy to the lungs
- Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals such as uranium, beryllium, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, mustard gas, chloromethyl ethers, gasoline, and diesel exhaust
Early lung cancer may not cause any symptoms. Many times, lung cancer is found when an x-ray is done for another reason.
Symptoms depend on the specific type of cancer you have, but may include:
- Cough that doesn’t go away
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Losing weight without trying
Additional symptoms that may also occur with lung cancer:
- Swallowing difficulty
- Nail problems
- Joint pain
- Hoarseness or changing voice
- Swelling of the face
- Facial paralysis
- Eyelid drooping
- Bone pain or tenderness
These symptoms can also be due to other, less serious conditions, so it is important to talk to your health care provider.
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. You will be asked if you smoke, and if so, how long you have smoked.
When listening to the chest with a stethoscope, the health care provider can sometimes hear fluid around the lungs, which could (but doesn’t always) suggest cancer.
Tests that may be performed include:
- Chest x-ray
- Sputum cytology test
- Blood work
- CT scan of the chest
- MRI of the chest
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
In some cases, the health care provider may need to remove a piece of tissue from your lungs for examination under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. There are several ways to do this:
- Bronchoscopy combined with biopsy
- Pleural biopsy
- CT scan directed needle biopsy
- Mediastinoscopy with biopsy
- Open lung biopsy
American College of Surgeons