Lung cancer is a cancer that starts in the lungs. When a person has lung cancer, they have abnormal cells that cluster together to form a tumor. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells grow without order or control and destroy the healthy lung tissue around them. These types of tumors are called malignant tumors.
According to the American Lung Association, there are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common. It makes up about 80 percent of lung cancer cases. This type of cancer usually grows and spreads to other parts of the body more slowly than small cell lung cancer does. There are three different types of non-small cell lung cancer: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma. Each type is different, but they are grouped together because they are treated similarly. There are two different types of small cell lung cancer: small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer) and mixed small cell/large cell cancer or combined small cell lung cancer. The types of small cell lung cancer are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells look when viewed under a microscope. Small cell lung cancer is almost always associated with cigarette smoking. It is important to know the type of lung cancer you have because it helps determine what treatment options are available.
Many people with lung cancer don’t have symptoms until the disease is in its later stages. There are very few nerve endings in the lungs. A tumor could be in the lungs without causing pain or discomfort. When symptoms are present, they are different in each person but may include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away and gets worse over time.
- A chronic cough or “smoker’s cough”
- Constant Chest Pain
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
- Frequent lung infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia
- Coughing up blood
Some symptoms of lung cancer may not seem related to the lungs or breathing. These symptoms can still be a sign of lung cancer because lung cancer usually does not cause symptoms in the earlier stages of the disease. This means some symptoms do not appear until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Some of these symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Bone pain or fractures
- Blood clots
See your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms. If you think you are at risk for lung cancer, talk to your doctor about being screened.
Available Treatment Options
There are several different options for treating lung cancer. The type and length of treatment time is chosen by you and your doctors. Treatments are tailored to your condition. They are based on the type and stage of lung cancer you have, other existing health issues and your own preferences. It is important to learn about your treatment choices so you and your doctors can work together to make the best decision for you.
A biopsy helps your physician plan your treatment.
Non-surgical biopsy options:
- Bronchoscopy – A thin, lighted tube (bronchoscope) is passed down the throat through either the mouth or nose to take samples of the spot seen by your doctor in the central areas of your lungs.
- Endobronchial Ultrasound (EBUS) – An ultrasound assisted bronchoscopy that allows for better examination of the lymph nodes and other structures in the center of the chest. This method can be used to see if cancer has spread or to remove tissue samples for testing.
- Electromagnetic Navigation Bronchoscopy™(ENB™) procedure – Unlike traditional bronchoscopy, the doctor uses LungGPS™ technology (similar to GPS navigation) to access difficult-to-reach areas of the lungs, lymph nodes and surrounding areas. This is a minimally invasive method to take tissue samples for a diagnosis and can mark areas to pinpoint future treatment if needed.
- Needle biopsy – A hollow needle is inserted directly through the chest to get a sample of the spot seen by your doctor on the low-dose CT scan.
Surgical biopsy options:
- Mediastinoscopy – An incision is made above the breastbone that allows a device with a camera to pass into the middle of the chest (mediastinum) to help doctors see the area and take tissue samples from the lymph nodes.
- Wedge resection – An incision is made in the chest and the abnormal section of the lung is removed and tested.