Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Although smoking causes of the majority of lung cancers, you do not have to be a smoker to have lung cancer. The longer you have smoked the greater your risk. Quitting smoking reduces your risk of lung cancer over time.
There are two major types of lung cancer - Small Cell (SCLC) and Non-Small Cell (NSCLC). This distinction is important for your oncologist as there are differences in the treatment of Small Cell and Non-Small Cell.
The symptoms of lung cancer are often very vague. In fact, most early lung cancers are entirely asymptomatic. As the cancer grows, some patients will notice coughing, spitting up small amounts of blood, weight loss and fatigue. Unfortunately, these are common symptoms that can be seen with many medical problems so it usually takes some time to make a diagnosis.
Most patients will be sent to a lung doctor when a chest X-ray shows an abnormality or a CT scan of the chest shows a mass. There is no way to make a certain diagnosis of lung cancer without a biopsy. No one should be treated for lung cancer until a biopsy confirms the diagnosis. In Arizona, Valley Fever is a common cause of abnormalities on a chest X-ray or CT scan that can be easily confused with lung cancer.
Once an abnormality on a chest X-ray is identified, most patients will proceed to CT scanning. Depending on the size and location, other tests are often used including PET scanning - a special type of nuclear medicine test that helps distinguish masses that are likely to be cancer from those that are low risk. Bronchoscopy, needle biopsy and surgical biopsy are other tests that may be recommended. As part of your evaluation, breathing tests are also performed in some patients. Your lung doctor will work quickly to make a specific diagnosis and determine the extent (or stage) of your lung cancer. We will then work together with cancer specialists (oncologists, radiation oncologists and thoracic surgeons) to coordinate your care.
If you are a smoker it is important to stop smoking immediately. Research shows that people who stop smoking do better with treatment that those that continue to smoke. In short, it is not too late to stop smoking!
The treatment of lung cancer depends on the type of cancer, how far it has spread (stage) and any medical problems that may coexist such as advance COPD. Early cancer may be cured with surgery in some patients. More advanced cancers may be treated with chemotherapy (medications), radiation therapy and some combination of the above.
Recent studies have now proven the value of lung cancer screening in patients with a substantial history of smoking who are age 55-74. Low Dose CT scanning has now been shown to reduce lung cancer. Arizona Pulmonary Specialists has an active lung cancer screening program.
The lung doctors at Arizona Pulmonary Specialists are experts in the diagnosis of lung cancer. Our team of doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists will work with you to ensure that we make a timely diagnosis and coordinate your care.