About Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States. Because it often presents few symptoms in the early stages of the disease, it may not be recognized or diagnosed until more advanced stages of disease, when it is difficult to diagnose and treat.
Risks and Warning Signs
While people who smoke have the greatest risk of developing lung cancer, it can still occur in non-smokers who are otherwise healthy. Other factors can also increase your risk, including exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to radon gas, exposure to asbestos and other chemicals, and certain lung diseases.
Unfortunately, most of the warning signs for lung cancer don’t occur until the disease has already advanced. Here are some possible symptoms to look for:
- A new cough that doesn’t go anyway
- Changes in a chronic cough
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Unexplained weight loss
Are There Any Screenings for Lung Cancer?
Currently, there is no established system to screen for lung cancer. Most cases are found through a CAT scan or chest x-ray, either when a patient is experiencing symptoms, or when they’ve come in to get an x-ray for a different reason, and a spot on the lung is found.
If a spot is found on your lung, it’s not necessarily cancer. Your doctor will likely recommend that you have a biopsy to analyze the affected lung tissue. A biopsy can happen one of two ways—through a tube with a small camera that’s placed down your throat and into your lungs, or with a needle biopsy through your chest wall. You’ll be sedated for both procedures.
If the biopsied lung tissue is malignant (cancerous), your doctor will then determine what kind of lung cancer you have, and how aggressive it is. There are two main types of lung cancer:
- Small cell lung cancer, also known as oat cell cancer, is often fast growing and may spread to lymph nodes or other organs early in the disease process.
- Non-small cell lung cancer is the more common type, and is more variable in how quickly it grows or spreads to other organs.
The type of cancer you have, and how advanced it is (known as the "stage"), will help you and your doctor determine the best treatment plan. Because lung cancer is such a difficult cancer to treat and cure, many patients get a second opinion from a different doctor, to ensure the most accurate diagnosis. Whatever choices you make, ThedaCare will remain available throughout your cancer care.
Learn more about testing and diagnosis
Treatment plans vary from patient to patient, but the two main types of lung cancer are generally treated in one of two ways. Small cell lung cancer usually involves chemotherapy or radiation, and sometimes both, because this type of lung cancer is more likely to spread to other parts of your body.
Non-small cell lung cancer is often treated with surgery, which removes all or part of your lung. Other lung cancers may be best treated with some combination of surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.
Cancer treatment is available from ThedaCare at our clinics throughout northeast Wisconsin.
Learn more about treatment options
Living Well in Tough Times
The reality of lung cancer is that it is a very deadly disease. And while each person’s cancer journey is different, it’s a good idea to think about end-of-life decisions. Your doctor is there to talk with you and your family about your options. It’s a tough conversation, but one that will ensure that if treatment doesn’t work, you’ll be able to spend your last days peacefully.
ThedaCare also offers support groups and one-on-one or family counseling, along with other resources to help you cope with lung cancer. Our Behavioral Health professionals understand the special needs of patients who are processing their end-of-life decisions and can help them and their families cope with grief.
Take charge of your health