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Lung Cancer

A graphical image showing the insides of a person's lungs; a mass, highlighted in red, shows a lung caner tumor

Lung cancer is the leading cause of all cancer deaths in the United States. There are two classifications of lung cancer. The diagnosis of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) or Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) is made based on the type of cells that are present, and how they look under a microscope. The cells in each of these classes of lung cancer behave in very different ways, and therefore are treated differently.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer is the most common kind of cancer. It doesn’t grow as quickly as Small Cell Lung Cancer. This classification of cancer includes three sub-types including:

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • Large Cell Carcinoma

While the diagnosis of Small Cell Lung Cancer is less common, this form of lung cancer is more aggressive. While it develops in the lungs, Small Cell Lung Cancer can metastasize to other parts of the body.

This classification of lung cancer is also referred to as:

  • Oat Cell Cancer
  • Oat Cell Carcinoma
  • Small Cell Undifferentiated Carcinoma

Some of the known risk factors for lung cancer are: Smoking: Smoking is the greatest risk factor for lung cancer. Tobacco smoke causes more than 8 out of 10 lung cancer deaths. Exposure to second hand smoke increases the risk of developing lung cancer as well.

Chemical exposure: Certain professions where workers are regularly exposed to harmful chemicals can lead to an increased risk. They include but are not limited to:

  • Firefighters
  • Construction Workers
  • Miners
  • Mechanics
  • Agricultural / Landscapers
  • Rubber Manufacturing
  • Some Healthcare Workers
  • Workers exposed to Radon Gas

Diseases: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Pulmonary Fibrosis and Tuberculosis place someone at higher risk for lung cancer.

Family history: There is an increased risk when immediate family members have had the disease especially at a young age.

Medical history: Individuals who have had previous exposure to radiation have an increased risk.

Some signs and symptoms of lung cancer are:

With both types of lung cancer, signs and symptoms often appear when the disease is advanced. They are different for each person. It’s important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your physician.

  • Cough that does not go away
  • Chest pain, made worse by deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Bloody or rust colored sputum
  • New onset of wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Reoccurring infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Joint or bone pain
  • Facial Swelling

Screening & Diagnosis

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommends that patients discuss their health history and individual risk factors with their physician to determine if lung cancer screening with a low dose CT scan is recommended. This includes individuals who are in one of these groups:

  • Group 1 individuals age 55 to 77 with a 30 or more pack year history who currently smoke or quit less than 15 years ago

  • Group 2 individuals aged 50 or older with a 20 or more pack year history who are either current or former smokers with at least  1 additional risk factor such as personal history of lung cancer, family history of lung cancer in first degree relatives, radon exposure, and occupational exposure

A complete physical exam and medical history should be done. The exam will check for any unusual physical signs. A complete medical history is also important to fully understand a person’s health habits, family history, previous illnesses, and past exposure.

Several tests can be used to diagnose lung cancer, to determine the type and staging and identify specific genetic characteristics or gene mutations of a tumor including:

  • Bone Scan
  • Imaging: MRI, CT and PET-CT of the chest
  • Microscopic examination of sputum
  • Biopsy
  • Fine Needle Aspiration
  • Thoracentesis
  • Thoracotomy
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Mediastinoscopy

Treatment for lung cancer can include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Surgery

Helpful Patient Resources:

We understand that receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a very scary and it is an emotional time for the patient and their families. It is very important to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your oncologist. We highly recommend that if you do any research about your disease, that you do so only with reputable sources. For your convenience, we’ve listed some below.

National Cancer Institute:

Lung Cancer - Patient Version

American Cancer Society

Lung Cancer

National Comprehensive Cancer Network

Guidelines for Patients