Lung Cancer

A lung cancer diagnosis is the beginning of an emotional and challenging journey filled with uncertainty and countless questions. Our multidisciplinary teams will be by your side through it all. You can expect to have all your questions answered and receive our know how much you matter type of care.

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer for men and women in the United States, right after skin and breast cancer for women and skin and prostate cancer for men. The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. The type of cancer depends on which types of cells in the lung become cancerous.

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, but it’s important to note that nonsmokers can also develop lung cancer. Radon is another cause of lung cancer in Iowa, and many homes have radon risk without the residents knowing it. If you notice any of the below symptoms, talk to your doctor.

Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

In the early stages, there may be no symptoms. Even if you have no risk factors, talk with your doctor right away if you have symptoms such as the ones below. The B.R.E.A.T.H.E. acronym can help you remember them:

  • Blood when you cough or spit
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Enduring cough that is new or different
  • Ache or pain in your shoulder, back or chest
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hoarseness or wheezing
  • Exhaustion, weakness, loss of appetite

People at Risk of Lung Cancer

  • Are a heavy smoker now or a have a history of heavy smoking — even if you quit a long time ago
  • Have had heavy exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Were exposed to indoor or outdoor air pollution
  • Have had a job with exposure to radiation
  • Were exposed to certain toxic substances, such as radon, asbestos or arsenic
  • Have a personal or family history of lung cancer

Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Several tests can be performed to diagnose lung cancer.

  • Imaging tests use x-rays, magnetic fields, sound waves or radioactive substances to create pictures of the inside of your body. Imaging tests may be done for a number of reasons, including:
    • To look at suspicious areas that might be cancer
    • To learn how far cancer might have spread
  • Symptoms and results of certain tests may strongly suggest that a person has lung cancer, but the actual diagnosis is made by looking at lung cells in the lab.
    • The cells can be taken from lung secretions (mucus you cough up from the lungs), fluid removed from the area around the lung (thoracentesis) or from a suspicious area using a needle or surgery (biopsy). Which test(s) to use depends on the situation and should be discussed with your doctor.

Lung Cancer Treatment

Treatment depends on the type of cancer (small cell or non-small cell), the size of the tumor and if it has spread. The majority of lung cancers have a chance to be cured if detected early.

  • In early stages of lung cancer, when the disease has not spread outside the lungs, surgery is the usual treatment. Sometimes chemotherapy, immunotherapy or targeted therapy is used in combination with surgery. If a patient can’t get surgery or doesn’t want it, radiation can also destroy a small tumor.
    • Chemotherapy drugs destroy cancer cells by stopping them from growing or reproducing.
    • Immunotherapy enhances the body’s immune system to recognize and attach cancer cells.
    • Targeted therapy focuses on specific molecules or pathways involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells, aiming to block their activity reducing growth and promoting cell death.
  • For later stages of the disease, radiation and chemotherapy are sometimes used with or without surgery. Patients with certain mutations may be eligible for immunotherapy.
    • Radiation therapy uses beams of energy to damage the building blocks of cancer cells and stop them from growing or spreading. It can cause the tumor to shrink, and in some cases, die. Radiation is directed at a particular area of the body while medications, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, travel through the blood to treat cancer cells that haven’t been detected.

Lung Cancer Prevention

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity can lower lung cancer risk by 20-50%. Walking 20-30 minutes per day, at least several days per week can reduce your risk of lung cancer and many other health conditions.
  • Never smoke or use tobacco - if you do, quit. It’s never too late to quit smoking – even if you’ve tried before without success. When a person quits smoking before middle age, their lung cancer risk drops by as much as 90%.
    • If you’re a current or former heavy smoker, get screened for lung cancer according to guidelines.
  • Heavy smokers should avoid beta-carotene supplements, as this may increase their risk of lung cancer.
  • Make your home and community smoke free.
  • Stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Know your family history.
  • Have your home tested for radon. If there’s an unsafe amount of radon gas seeping into a home, mitigation is available to make the home safe.

Lung Cancer Screening

There’s definitive evidence that screening long-time smokers with low-dose spiral CT significantly reduces lung cancer deaths. Lung screenings include a low dose CT scan of the chest. The rapid, non-invasive test uses low-dose x-rays which provide detailed, three-dimensional images of the lungs. The entire chest is scanned in 15 seconds or less. 

Our Cancer Centers

Each cancer experience is unique, and that’s why our experienced cancer center teams are committed to using the latest treatments and clinical research to provide you with advanced care close to home.