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Lung Cancer

At Rush, we know that a lung cancer diagnosis can turn your life upside down.

That's why we don't just treat the cancer, we provide the support you and your family need to keep doing the things that are important to you. Our team of thoracic surgeons, oncologists, pulmonoligists, palliative care specialists and other caregivers work with you to maintain or improve your quality of life during and after treatment.  

Of course, we also offer outstanding treatment, including minimally invasive surgery and targeted radiation therapy. So you can rest assured that when you come to Rush, you are in capable and caring hands. 

What is lung cancer?

Most lung cancer begins in the cells that line the bronchi, the two large tubes that carry air from the trachea down into the lungs.

There are two main types of lung cancer:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (including adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and large cell carcinomas) is the most common type. It is usually slow-growing and does not spread (metastasize) as fast as small cell lung cancer.
  • Small cell lung cancer (small cell carcinoma and combined small cell carcinoma) is very aggressive, growing and spreading rapidly.

Some people have both types at the same time. This is called mixed small cell-large cell cancer.

Cancer that spreads to the lungs from another part of the body is called metastatic cancer to the lung. It is not considered to be lung cancer. For example, when breast cancer metastasizes to the lungs, it is still called breast cancer.

Lung cancer symptoms

Symptoms of lung cancer include the following:

  • A persistent cough (one that won’t go away) that is worsening over time
  • Constant chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea), wheezing or hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite

Lung cancer causes and risk factors

  • The most common cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoking. The earlier you started smoking and the more cigarettes you smoke, the higher your risk.
  • You can also get lung cancer from secondhand cigarette smoke, so if you live or work with smokers and start having symptoms, talk to your doctor.
  • These are some of the other leading risk factors for lung cancer:
    • Air pollution
    • Radiation to the lungs
    • A family history of lung cancer
    • Exposure to asbestos

How can I get help for lung cancer?

Talk to your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms, especially if you smoke or used to be a smoker:

  • Constant chest pain
  • A cough that does not go away and gets worse over time
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • You are losing weight without trying or don’t have an appetite
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
  • Wheezing or hoarseness
  • You keep getting pneumonia or bronchitis

If lung cancer is suspected, you may be sent for a biopsy, a procedure in which surgeons remove a small piece of lung tissue. The tissue is then examined under a microscope to see if cancerous cells are present.

Rush also offers endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS), a less invasive way to biopsy for lung cancer that eliminates the need for even minor surgery.

In the procedure, doctors thread a bronchoscope with an ultrasound sensor on its tip through the mouth and into the airways around the lungs. If they spot something suspicious, they can pass a hollow needle through the bronchoscope to get a sample of tissue or fluid to test for cancer cells.

In a standard needle biopsy, doctors may have to go through the lung to get a sample of cells or make a cut in the neck to pass the tube through. But since EBUS goes through the mouth, it doesn't leave a wound. EBUS can also detect smaller abnormalities than a standard biopsy, which helps with early diagnosis.