Lung cancer is caused when tissues within the lung begin to grow and change rapidly, caused by mutations in the cells. According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 260,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. In fact, lung cancer is the leading cause of death in Americans younger than 85.f
Learn about our Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Center.
People are at a higher risk for developing lung cancer if they were exposed to certain behaviors and substances. These may include:
- radon exposure
- asbestos and other chemicals
- air pollution
Symptoms of disease in the lung may include:
- coughing that does not get better within a few weeks
- chest pain
- coughing up blood
- weight loss
When a patient presents with symptoms that might suggest lung cancer or any other form of lung disease, your doctor will use several diagnostic methods to make an accurate diagnosis.
- Your doctor will ask for a complete medical history, and will perform a thorough physical examination. Diagnostic tests may include:
- Chest X-ray
- CT scan
- Your doctor may want to do further tests to evaluate the tumor(s). These tests may include:
- Thoracentesis. In this test, your doctor wants to check the fluid in your chest, also called the pleural fluid. Your doctor will numb the area and insert a needle into the chest and draw out some of the fluid. The fluid is sent to the lab, where it is tested for cancer.
- Bronchoscopy. In this test, your doctor wants to view the inside of your lungs and breathing airways. Using a thin, lighted tube, called a bronchoscope , your doctor will view the passageway of air into the body and lungs. Your doctor will take cells from both the breathing airways and the lungs . Learn more about bronchoscopy.
- Fine-needle aspiration. In this test, your doctor wants to view the liquid inside your lungs or your lymph nodes. Your doctor will use a needle to remove tissue and cells from the liquid. In some cases, your doctor will recommend using an ultrasound or CT scan as a guide for the needle.
- Thoracoscopy. In this test, your doctor wants to view your lungs and chest cavity internally. Your doctor will make several small incisions in your chest and back. Your surgeon will then insert a lighted narrow tube to check the areas for any abnormalities. If any are found, your doctor can collect enough tissue in order to do a biopsy and check for cancer.
- Thoracotomy. During this procedure, your doctor wants to get a very good look at your lungs and surrounding tissues. Your thoracic surgeon will open the chest with a long incision, and remove any abnormalities or lymph nodes for further examination in the lab. Learn more about a thoracotomy.
- Mediastinoscopy. During this procedure, your doctor wants to view the inside of the chest. Your thoracic surgeon will make an incision at the top of the breastbone, and insert a thin, lighted tube to see inside the chest. Any abnormalities or possibly affected lymph nodes will be removed for further examination in the lab. Learn more about a mediastinoscopy.
A Diagnosis of Lung Cancer
After you have undergone any of these tests, your doctor may inform you that you have lung cancer. There are two main types of lung cancer:
- small cell lung cancer (This is rarer and spreads quickly.)
- non-small cell lung cancer (This is a more common form of lung cancer and typically spreads less quickly than small cell lung cancer.)
These types are diagnosed based on how the cells look under a microscope.
There are three primary types of treatment for lung cancer:
Some of the diagnostic procedures described above are also used as surgical treatments to remove the cancer. Depending on the staging (how far the cancer is spread), your thoracic team will create an appropriate treatment regimen personalized for you. This treatment regimen is based on currently available scientific evidence and research designed for optimal results in cancer treatment.
Where to go from here?Inside Lung Cancer: Lung Cancer Center
Inside Lung Cancer: Lowell-Lung Cancer
Next Topic: Esophageal Cancer
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