Whether you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, you’re worried about developing lung cancer or you’re trying to stay well after treatment, we’re here for you every step of the way.
What is lung cancer?
Your lungs are air-filled organs located on each side of the chest, responsible for supplying oxygen to your body. Besides helping you breathe and speak; your lungs act as filters to protect you from air bubbles or small blood clots. They can shelter your heart from damage or trauma, such as during a collision.
Lung cancer develops when the healthy, normal cells that line the lung gland begin to “go rogue” by growing and functioning in a different way. These cancerous cells can begin to build up and form a mass called a tumor, which exists as a lump inside your lung.
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Types of lung cancer
There are several types of lung cancer that can develop, each requiring different treatment plans. Each type is named for how the cancerous cells look under a microscope.
- Small cell carcinoma, which is aggressive and rarely treated surgically. Ten to 15 percent of all lung cancer cases are small cell lung cancers.
- Non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common type of lung cancer. It is less aggressive, growing and spreading more slowly. This type of lung cancer can be further broken down into three main types:
- Large cell lung cancer, an aggressive type of cancer that grows and spreads quickly and can occur anywhere in the lungs.
- Adenocarcinoma, a slow-growing cancer that doesn’t form in the lung itself, but in the tissues outside the lungs.
- Squamous cell carcinoma, which typically grows inside the airways in your lungs. Often, signs of squamous cell lung cancer appear sooner than with other lung cancers.
- Mixed, which is rare and can be a mix of non-small and small cell carcinomas.
Mesothelioma isn’t technically lung cancer, but it is a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. It forms in the lining of the lungs, while lung cancer forms in the lungs themselves.
Lung cancer symptoms
Early stages of lung cancer may not have any symptoms. Common symptoms that can appear in the disease’s more advanced stages include:
- Persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Hoarseness or voice changes
- Shortness of breath
- Unintentional weight loss
- Pain in the chest
- Swelling in the face or neck
- Difficulty or pain while swallowing
- Lumps in the neck or chest region
Having these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you have lung cancer. However, it’s still important to tell your doctor, as these could be signs of an underlying health issue.
Lung cancer risk factors
Each year, more than 220,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with lung cancer — that’s one new lung cancer diagnosis every 2 minutes. The causes of lung cancer can vary from tobacco use to environmental factors. And although smoking is one cause of lung cancer, there are many others. Certain risk factors that can increase your odds of developing the disease include:
- Smoking: Smoking puts you at the greatest risk of developing lung cancer. In fact, 80 percent of lung cancers are caused by tobacco use.
- Radon exposure: Radon is an odorless gas that can be found in old homes or buildings. Exposure to radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers. Radon testing can tell you if you’ve got radon in your home.
- Inhaling chemicals: Inhaling chemical compounds such as arsenic, diesel exhaust or asbestos can increase your risk of lung cancer. People who work in manufacturing facilities, mining facilities or shipyards may be exposed to these substances.
- Lung disease: People with lung disease, such as emphysema or COPD, have a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
- Other risk factors: Other risk factors that can increase your risk of developing lung cancer include a family history of lung cancer, drinking water contaminated with arsenic, previous exposure to chest radiation or air pollution and breathing in secondhand smoke.
Lung cancer screening
Screening for lung cancer through a low-dose CT scan is becoming more common and may help catch the disease at an earlier stage, when it is more treatable.
Heavy smokers between the ages of 55 and 80 should get screened for lung cancer. Heavy smoking is defined by the “pack-year history,” a system to measure a person’s exposure to tobacco. A pack-year means you’ve smoked approximately one pack of cigarettes a day for a year. If you smoke a pack a day for 20 years, you would have a 20-pack-year history.
Anyone who has quit smoking anytime in the past 15 years should also have a lung cancer screening.
Early detection is the key to identifying cancer — including lung cancer — when it’s more treatable and curable.
Diagnosing lung cancer
We offer diagnostic tests that use the most advanced technology to better detect lung cancer in its earliest stages. Your doctor may perform diagnostic testing that includes:
- Imaging tests – These take detailed images of the inside of your lungs. Imaging tests can show possible tumors, monitor if a tumor has spread and check whether treatment is working. These tests may include computed tomography (CT) scan, MRI scan and endoscopic ultrasounds.
- Navigational bronchoscopy – During this procedure, a thin tube is inserted through the mouth or nose. This tube is fitted with a camera to take pictures of hard-to-reach parts of the airway and lungs.
- Biopsy – During a biopsy, a lung specialist takes a small sample of lung tissue with a thin needle or a surgical procedure. The tissue is examined under a microscope to look for cancerous (malignant) cells
Lung cancer treatment
At Geisinger, our highly trained team of lung cancer specialists includes surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurse navigators and support staff who come together to develop a personalized treatment plan around you.
Depending on the type, location and stage of your lung cancer, one or more of the following treatments may be recommended.
Surgery is a common method of treating lung cancer. Our surgeons use the latest techniques to treat cancer of the lungs, including minimally invasive surgery, to offer you the best outcomes and path for healing.
Our surgeons are highly trained and board certified, which means they have passed an optional national exam to demonstrate their medical expertise. Many of our surgeons also have specialized training in specific types of cancer surgery.
Chemotherapy is a drug-based treatment designed to slow the growth of or shrink tumors. Chemotherapy drugs can be given through an IV or taken in a pill form.
The timing of your chemotherapy may be given:
- Before your surgery, to try to reduce the size of the tumor
- After your surgery, to destroy any cancer that still remains in the area and lower the chance of the cancer coming back
- Along with radiation therapy, which together are known as chemoradiation or chemoradiotherapy
At Geisinger, our team includes doctors called medical oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy. You’ll also have access to clinical trials that include testing new chemotherapy drugs and combinations of medications that aren’t widely available.
Keeping you comfortable while you have treatment is important to us. Our state-of-the-art clinics — many recently renovated — offer heated seats and individual TVs to help you relax during treatment.
Radiation oncology uses radiation to control or destroy harmful cancer cells with tools to treat each unique cancer.
Our board-certified cancer doctors and highly skilled clinical team deliver conventional radiotherapy treatments that include:
- External beam radiation, which uses special technology to send X-ray radiation (photons) to the tumor from outside the body
- Internal radiation (brachytherapy), which targets the tumor using safe levels of radiation inside the body through radioactive tubes or radioactive seeds
- Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which uses a 3D image of the tumor to deliver high-precision radiotherapy that fits its exact outline
- Volumetric-modulated arc therapy (VMAT), which uses 360 degrees of freedom provided by modulating the radiation beam as the machine spins around the patient
- Respiratory motion management and gated beam delivery, a system that uses lasers and advanced software to track motion of tumor and guide the delivery of radiation as a patient breathes
- Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), which is used to localize the radiation beam daily and enhance accuracy of radiation delivery to the tumor
- Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), which uses precise conformal beams of radiation to focus high doses of radiation to just the tumor, with very little damage to surrounding healthy tissues
CyberKnife® robotic radiosurgery is a non-invasive treatment for tumors that are hard to reach or inoperable. This robotic therapy targets complex tumors — including cancerous and non-cancerous tumors — by delivering high doses of targeted radiation safely, anywhere in the body. And it’s offered at the Frank M. and Dorothea Henry Cancer Center at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre.
No incisions involved. So you have quicker treatments, less pain and faster recovery. Learn more about CyberKnife.
Lung cancer care at Geisinger
Cancer is unique to each person, which is why Geisinger’s cancer care team gets to know you along your journey. While some of our cancer specialists are trained in treating specific cancers, our entire team works together to help you fight your cancer.
Our lung cancer specialists are dedicated to providing innovative treatments and personalized cancer care. We offer:
- Unmatched expertise – Our cancer team consists of surgeons, doctors and specialists, many with specialty training. This team treats many patients with lung cancer each year, and is focused on delivering the most personalized, excellent care that is suited to each patient’s needs.
- Multidisciplinary care team – Those diagnosed with cancer have the opportunity to work with our experienced multidisciplinary care team, a multi-physician team that comes together to create a personalized treatment plan for each patient. This will enable you to see your care team in one location, all during the same visit.
- World-class care, close to home – With many locations throughout northeast and central Pennsylvania, our experienced cancer team provides consultations and comprehensive care. We offer leading-edge treatment options and tailored-to-you care backed by the expertise and innovation of a nationally recognized health system.
- Comprehensive specialty care – From chemotherapy, radiation and minimally invasive surgery options to national clinical trials and genetic testing, our lung cancer specialists are dedicated to offering innovative treatment options and personalized care in convenient locations, so you don’t have to travel far. We’ll work with you to develop a personalized lung cancer care plan based on your individual needs.
- Genetic testing and counseling programs – Special research programs, such as MyCode, are only available at Geisinger. Participating in MyCode allows you to contribute to genetic research. By participating, some may receive information about their own genetic risks. Learn about MyCode.
- Survivorship program – Just because your treatment is complete doesn’t mean your journey is over. We offer a variety of support resources focused on helping you live your healthiest life. Learn about patient resources.