Lung Cancer

It is essential to get a better understanding of the kind of lung cancer you have. At Coastal Cancer Center, our pathologist will closely examine the lung cancer cells and tumors to determine the type and treatment. There are two main types of lung cancer. They are called non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Another type, called lung carcinoid tumors, is less common.

Adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common subtypes of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Accounting for an estimated 13 percent of lung cancers, small cell lung cancer (SCLC) begins in the cells surrounding the bronchi.

You may not notice any symptoms of lung cancer. An abnormal spot seen on a chest x-ray or a CT scan is often the first indicator. Symptoms may include:

  • Losing weight without trying
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Dry cough that does not go away
  • Coughing up blood
  • New shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue

Our oncologists and staff at Coastal Cancer Center provide compassionate care and advanced treatment to all lung cancer patients. Your comprehensive care team will include oncology and hematology physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and other experts.

To develop your treatment plan, our providers work with experts in:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Interventional radiology
  • Supportive care
  • Pharmacy
  • Laboratory

Frequently Asked Questions

Are nodules found on the lung always cancerous?
No. The majority of lung nodules, which are suspicious spots or masses detected on the lung through X-rays and other diagnostics, are not cancerous. A thorough and accurate diagnosis is crucial to determining whether you have cancer and what treatment options may be available. Advances in diagnostics have enabled our lung cancer experts to develop a program that evaluates lung nodules and returns a diagnosis in just a few days, condensing a process that typically takes weeks.

Can non-smokers get lung cancer?
Yes. Smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. But lung cancer also occurs in people who have never smoked or who did not have prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke. Other risks include exposure to asbestos, radon, and other environmental chemicals. Non-smokers account for about 10 percent of lung cancer patients, and they have a higher incidence of mutations that may be treated with targeted therapies.

What innovations are helping the fight against lung cancer?
Treatment advances in lung cancer are moving in two different directions: targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Targeted therapies are designed to interrupt the function of certain molecules driving the growth of cancer cells, stopping the cells from dividing and spreading. Immunotherapy taps the immune system’s illness-fighting tendencies, directing it to locate and kill cancer cells. The FDA has approved a number of targeted therapies and immunotherapies for the treatment of lung cancer.

Is chemotherapy the only treatment option for my lung cancer?
There are various treatment options available to treat lung cancer, each with its own potential benefits, including surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Surgery often involves the removal of a tumor and surrounding tissue during an operation. It may be used to diagnose or learn more about cancer. Surgery may be an option, depending on the location, size, and type of cancer.

Radiation therapy is another standard cancer treatment. It harnesses high-energy waves (X-rays, radioactive particles) to destroy or damage cancer cells. Radiation may be used in combination with other therapies to reverse the growth of cancer cells.

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer solid medicines to treat cancer. Dozens of different chemotherapy drugs are available in the fight against lung cancer today. Doctors choose certain medications based on the type of cancer and its stage.

Targeted therapy uses drugs to attack the inner workings of cancer cells. This more direct attack is different from chemotherapy because these drugs seek out cancerous cells but do not harm healthy ones. Targeted therapies often have other and less severe side effects than standard chemotherapy drugs.

Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted treatments—alone or in combination—are all used to treat lung cancer. The length of treatment and recovery depends on the stage of cancer and the patient’s underlying health issues.

Is genomic testing an option for me?
Advanced genomic testing has become the standard of care for some lung cancer patients, including those diagnosed with non-small cell cancer. These assessments examine cancer at a cellular level, identifying DNA mutations that are responsible for driving the growth of a particular tumor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several drugs designed to target specific abnormalities revealed during genomic tests. Genomic testing may not be right for every patient, so it’s essential for you to talk to your oncologist about whether you are a candidate.

What treatment-related side effects should I expect?
Lung cancer and its treatments may cause several side effects that impact your quality of life and your ability to continue with treatment. No two people have the same response to cancer treatment, and side effects may vary depending on what type of treatment you pursue. Common lung cancer-related side effects include pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and weight loss. Evidence-based supportive therapies like pain management, nutrition therapy, mind-body medicine, oncology rehabilitation, and spiritual support may help reduce the severity or frequency of side effects, allowing patients to continue treatment and get back to life.