If you have lung cancer, Rush offers immunotherapy, targeted treatments and minimally invasive surgery — all from a nationally recognized team of specialists.
Lung cancer forms in the lung's tissues, most often in the cells that line the air passages. There are two main types of lung cancer:
- Non-small cell lung cancer, which includes adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and large cell carcinomas. It is the most common type of lung cancer. It is usually slow-growing and does not spread as fast as small cell lung cancer.
- Small cell lung cancer is an aggressive form of lung cancer most common in people who smoke. It usually starts in your breathing tubes, quickly growing and spreading to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes.
Today, the outlook for lung cancer is better than it was even just five to 10 years ago, thanks to advanced treatments like immunotherapies and minimally invasive surgery.
The earlier lung cancer is diagnosed, the more treatable it is. Annual lung cancer screening is one of the most effective ways to detect it early. Rush offers low-dose lung CT screening for people at high risk for lung cancer who meet certain criteria.
Lung Cancer Symptoms
If you have any of the following symptoms, it is important you consult your doctor to be screened for lung cancer, especially if you smoke or used to be a smoker:
- A persistent cough (one that won't go away) and is worsening over time
- Constant chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
- Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
Lung Cancer Risk Factors
You also may be at higher risk if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Occupational exposures
- Radon exposure
- Family history of lung cancer (a parent or sibling)
- History of COPD or pulmonary fibrosis
- Living in an area with high air pollution
If you have the following risk factors, you qualify for and should strongly consider annual lung cancer screening:
- You have a smoking history of, on average, a pack a day for at least 30 years; or two packs a day for at least 15 years.
- You are a former smoker between 55 and 77.
- You smoke now, or you quit smoking within the last 15 years.
Lung Cancer Treatment at Rush
If your doctor suspects you have lung cancer, you may be sent for a biopsy, a procedure in which surgeons remove a small piece of lung tissue. A pathologist then examines the tissue under a microscope to see if cancerous cells are present. Rush also offers a less invasive ultrasound to biopsy for lung cancer.
If you have lung cancer, your care team will recommend a personalized treatment plan that includes a full range of treatments to treat your lung cancer and, when needed, to relieve the side effects of treatment.
At Rush, we treat the whole person, not just the lung cancer. We'll focus on relieving pain, easing your breathing problems, and helping you have a better quality of life during and after treatment.
Nonsurgical Treatments for Lung Cancer
- Biologic therapies, which help your body's immune system fight cancer and control the side effects of other treatments such as chemotherapy
- Chemotherapy and other drug regimens
- Complementary and alternative therapies, including acupuncture, massage therapy and counseling, to accompany your medical treatment plan.
- Photodynamic therapy, which uses a light-activated drug that kills cancer cells. Your team may recommend photodynamic therapy when a typical treatment program is not appropriate for you. It can also help relieve symptoms if you have non-small cell lung cancer that obstructs your airways.
- A vaccine, MAGE-A3 Antigen-Specific Cancer Immunotherapy that triggers your immune system to identify and attack specific tumor cells without harming normal cells.
- Radiation therapy, which may include conventional external beam radiation therapy — an option if you have small, localized lung tumors.
- Immunotherapies for non-small cell lung cancer that zero in on the cancer cells while sparing surrounding tissue. They include the following:
- Monoclonal antibodies, man-made versions of specific immune system proteins that prevent your tumor from developing new blood vessels to feed it. Monoclonal antibodies specifically target vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein essential to the formation of new blood vessels.
- EGFR inhibitors, target epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR), proteins found on the surface of cells that helps cells to grow and divide. EGFR inhibitors work by blocking EGFR from signaling the cells to grow, which can help keep some lung tumors under control. They can be used alone (without chemotherapy) as a first line of treatment if you have advanced non-small cell lung cancer that has certain mutations in the EGFR gene. They can also be used if you have advanced NSCLC without these mutations if chemo isn't working for you.
- EGFR inhibitors that also target cells with the T790M mutation, can help fight against cells with T790M mutation. Typically, EGFR inhibitors stop working after a few months because the cancer cells develop another mutation in the EGFR gene.
- EGRF inhibitors for squamous cell non-small cell lung cancer (necitumumab), can be used along with chemotherapy as the first treatment if you have advanced squamous cell NSCLC.
- Drugs that target the ALK gene (e.g., crizotinib, ceritinib), block the abnormal ALK protein (a rearrangement of the ALK gene found in about 5% of non-small cell lung cancers) and help shrink tumors. These drugs can help if chemotherapy has stopped working for you, but may also be used instead of chemotherapy if your cancer has the ALK gene rearrangement. Your team may also recommend crizotinib as first-line therapy if you have advanced non-small cell lung cancer and your tumors have a rearrangement in the ROS1 gene.
Minimally Invasive Lung Cancer Surgery
- NanoKnife, specialists use bursts of electricity to create microscopic holes in cancer cells to kill them.
- Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS): Experts in this surgery, specialists at Rush use VATS for almost 75 percent of lobectomies (lung removal) surgeries, which help you recover quickly. The average hospital stay afterwards is 4.2 days, nearly half the national average, and you will experience less pain and a quicker return to your daily activities.
Rush Excellence in Lung Cancer Care
- Among the best for lung cancer surgery: The lung cancer surgery program at Rush University Medical Center has received three stars — the highest rating possible — from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, an honor given to only the top 5% of thoracic surgery programs in the U.S. and Canada. Released every six months, the 3-star rating has been awarded to Rush a total of eight consecutive times since the star ratings were established in 2015.
- Recognized for lung cancer care — by our patients: Rush is one of two U.S. and five worldwide lung cancer programs consistently honored by The International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer for providing the highest quality patient care. Acknowledging cancer care teams across the globe who go above and beyond to provide the highest-quality patient care, the award is unique in that patients nominate the recipients.
- Leaders in precision medicine: The lung cancer team works closely with Tempus — a biotechnology company that analyzes your specific genetic and clinical data and provides information about how your specific cancer may respond to targeted treatments. This allows your care team to tailor treatment to find the most effective option for treating your lung cancer.
- A multidisciplinary, experienced team: A personalized treatment plan is critical to success. Our experienced and highly-trained lung cancer surgeons have performed more than 900 lung surgeries. They work closely with other specialists, including medical and radiation oncologists, pulmonologists, radiologists and pathologists, to tailor a treatment plan just for you.
- Nationally ranked program: U.S. News & World Report ranked Rush University Medical Center among the best in the nation for cancer.