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At the Henry Ford Cancer Institute, we provide compassionate, expert care. We’ll guide you and your family through the process, including diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care as a survivor.
Our team of doctors, surgeons, interventional pulmonologists, radiation and medical oncologists and nurses will make sure you have all the information and support you need. However, at any point during your journey of care, you may have some questions – some of which come up more frequently than others, so we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers to get you started.
Lung Cancer Basics
Lung Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis
Lung Cancer Treatment
There are two major types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer.
Small cell lung cancer tends to grow quicker than non-small cell lung cancer and, as such, is often far more aggressive. Because of the rate at which small cell lung cancer metastasizes, it is usually diagnosed after it has spread outside of the lungs.
Smoking causes the majority of lung cancers, in both smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke, but it does not cause all cases of lung cancer. Individuals who do not smoke or have never been exposed to secondhand smoke can be diagnosed with lung cancer, although, in these cases, the exact cause is not always clear.
Although smoking causes the majority of lung cancers, nearly 20% of people who die from lung cancer in the United States have never smoked or used tobacco products. Sadly, this is enough to rank this population in the top ten most fatal cancers in the U.S., if non-smokers who developed lung cancer had their own category.
Aside from tobacco use or exposure to secondhand smoke, other causes of lung cancer include:
Be sure to limit your exposure to any of these causes of lung cancer through lifestyle changes, such as testing your home for radon and eliminating any possible hazards in your workplace.
Aside from smoking, tobacco use or secondhand smoke, other risk factors for lung cancer include:
If doctors suspect lung cancer, they may order one or more of the following diagnostic tests:
Unfortunately, you may not notice any signs of lung cancer until the disease is advanced. However, some people with early lung cancer do have symptoms, which may include:
Usually symptoms of lung cancer don’t appear until the disease is already at an advanced, non-curable stage, which makes early detection difficult. However, Henry Ford’s Lung Cancer Screening Clinic uses computed tomography (CT) scans to identify potential lung cancer as early as possible in current or former smokers.
In order to determine the best and most effective treatment options, your doctor must first determine which stage your lung cancer is in. To do so, your doctor may administer staging tests, such as computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and bone scans, each of which allow your doctor to determine the location and extent to which your lung cancer may have spread.
Although they are two separate conditions, lung cancer and pneumonia can often present with similar symptoms, causing some patients to be initially treated for pneumonia before further imaging tests reveal an underlying cancer.
Some of the shared symptoms between lung cancer and pneumonia include a cough, darker mucus, shortness of breath, low energy or fatigue, a loss of appetite, and pains in your chest that are worsened by respiration. Pneumonia will also present with more cold-like symptoms, such as fever, chills and headaches.
If your primary physician has diagnosed you with pneumonia, it is important to complete all medication as prescribed. Should your symptoms persist it is important to follow up with your primary care provider to reevaluate your treatment. At this time, your physician may recommend more advanced imaging to rule out any other underlying conditions including cancer.
Although there currently are not any blood tests available that can detect lung cancer with certainty, Henry Ford Health System has participated in tumor sampling research to assist in the development of future lab tests and better understand how to distinguish between malignant and benign tumors to determine overall risk factors.
Although lung cancer can technically be cured, it is very rare and can only occur in very specific circumstances, such as individuals who have stage 1A lung cancer with no vascular invasion.
However, lung cancer can be treated and managed in a variety of ways, especially given recent advancements in modern medicine and oncology. Although there is always a chance that lung cancer can recur, the longer someone lives without evidence of cancer the lower the likelihood that it will come back.
Our thoracic cancer team, along with specialists from the Henry Ford Center for Lung Health, cares for more than 500 lung cancer patients every year. A team of specialists discusses each individual case then develops a treatment plan specific to their health, needs and priorities. Dependent upon which stage the lung cancer is in at diagnosis, treatment may include:
A common side effect of lung cancer surgery is shortness of breath and, dependent upon the extent of the surgery, lung health prior to surgery and time needed for chest wall to heal, it may linger. However, certain steps can be taken to minimize any shortness of breath that follows lung cancer surgery, including:
An important factor when considering lung cancer surgery is the patient’s quality of life, both before and after the procedure. Although a successful surgery can be one of the most effective treatments for lung cancer, it is important to be aware of what may lie ahead. Outside of the physical side effects of lung cancer surgery such as shortness of breath, pain or pneumonia, patients have reported emotional side effects such as stress, fear, worry or anger, all of which are normal responses to a life-altering event. For those who find themselves seeking assistance or guidance following lung cancer surgery, Henry Ford offers support services to help cope with any issues or concerns you may have.
While many cases of lung cancer are considered ‘inoperable,’ that does not mean that treatment or long-term survival is no longer an option. It is important to remember that inoperable simply means that lung cancer surgery is not currently the best treatment option. However, chemotherapy and radiation therapy could reduce the size or location of the tumor, which could allow lung cancer surgery to become an option.
Factors that would qualify lung cancer as inoperable include:
The chances of lung cancer recurring is dependent upon several factors, including the original treatment strategy, the type of lung cancer, and the stage at which it was diagnosed. While most instances of lung cancer recurrence are in the first five years post-diagnosis, there is, unfortunately, always a risk of recurrence. Dependent upon where the recurrence occurs, there are several ways to define it:
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