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Lung cancer care

Comprehensive prevention, detection and treatment for people with lung cancer

Allina Health provides complete care for the prevention, detection and treatment of lung cancer. At Allina Health, we believe in a holistic approach to your lung cancer care, considering the well-being of your body, mind and soul. We have an entire team of health care providers who will work closely with you through every step of your lung cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. 

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Lung cancer care at Allina Health

According to the American Cancer Society, the two most common forms of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer occurs in roughly 8 in 10 cases of lung cancer, while small cell lung cancer occurs in roughly 1 in 10 cases. Small cell lung cancer is the faster growing of the two. Other, rare types of lung tumors make up the remainder of lung cancers. 

Regardless of the type of lung cancer you have, at Allina Health you will receive expert care from diagnosis through treatment and recovery.  A team of cancer specialists will provide your care and work with you every step of the way. This team includes a dedicated nurse navigator, who will help coordinate your care and be your primary point of contact. 

At Allina Health, we focus on your overall level of health, and we want you to be involved in your care. One way you can take charge of your care is through the Allina Health account, an online tool that lets you track your appointments, review your test results, and more. 

Diagnosis and staging of lung cancer

It is important for people who are at an increased risk of lung cancer to get screened for the disease each year. Learn about lung cancer screening options and guidelines.  

When you have symptoms of lung cancer, diagnosis is done using a variety of tests, including: 

  • Lab tests: This includes obtaining blood, urine or other bodily substances to look for signs of cancer and the overall level of health. This may include complete blood count (CBC), evaluation of pleural fluid (fluid buildup between the tissues that line the lungs and chest) and tests that look for abnormalities in the liver, kidneys and bones that indicate the cancer may have spread. 

  • Imaging: This includes X-rays using low-dose radiation to get a general view inside the body as well as computed tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography and computed tomography (PET-CT) scans that use X-rays and a computer to make a 3D image for a more detailed view of internal structures. 

  • Sputum cytology: This is when your phlegm is examined under a microscope for signs of lung cancer. 

  • Biopsy: A biopsy may need to be done to make a diagnosis of cancer. This is when a tissue sample is taken and sent to a lab to test cells for possible cancer. The results will identify the type of cancer and help determine treatment options. A biopsy can be done by needle (when a tissue sample is removed using a needle) or bronchoscopy (when a flexible, lighted tube is inserted through your nose or mouth and into your lungs). View our brochure for more information on the different types of bronchoscopy procedures.  

If you have lung cancer, your health care team will identify the type and how far it has progressed. There are different types of non-small cell lung cancer: 

  • Adenocarcinoma: This cancer starts in the mucus-producing cells of the lungs. 

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Also called epidermoid carcinoma, this cancer starts in the squamous cells, which are the flat cells that form the lining of the lungs’ airways. 

  • Large cell carcinoma: This cancer can start in the large cells of the lungs and can grow and spread quickly. 

There are two types of small cell lung cancer, including: 

  • small cell carcinoma (oat cell cancer) 

  • combined small cell carcinoma. 

Once lung cancer has been diagnosed, the stage will be identified based on the TNM staging system: 

  • T (Tumor): the size and depth of tumor (growth). 

  • N (Lymph Nodes): if the tumor affects nearby lymph nodes  

  • M (Metastasis): if the cancer has spread to other organs or distant lymph nodes.  

The stage is expressed in Roman numerals, with 0 being the earliest stage at which it hasn’t spread and IV being the most advanced at which it has spread throughout the lungs or to other areas of the body.   

How to prepare for your first visit

Most people start by seeing their primary care provider. If your provider suspects lung cancer, you will be referred to a pulmonologist or medical oncologist. Questions to ask your health care team: 

  • How treatable is lung cancer? 

  • What stage of lung cancer do I have? 

  • What is the most common/recommended treatment for my lung cancer? 

  • How will treatment affect my daily life? 

  • Will treatment impact my fertility? 

  • Does lung cancer spread? 

  • Can my lung cancer be cured? 

  • What support resources are available to help me? 

  • Whom should I call if I have questions after I leave the office? 

Insurance coverage

Not every health insurance plan is the same. To be sure of what is covered under your plan, it is important to talk with your insurance provider. Ideally, this should be done before testing and treatment, so you know what is covered and what you will need to pay for on your own. 

Call your insurance provider any time you have questions about your coverage. You can do this by calling the number on your membership card.  

Common lung cancer questions

How can you prevent lung cancer? 

The best way to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke and avoid being around second-hand smoke. If you are a smoker, there are resources to help you quit tobacco. You can also prevent lung cancer by avoiding or limiting your exposure radon, diesel exhaust or other airborne substances, such as asbestos. 

What causes lung cancer? 

The most common cause of lung cancer is smoking. However, anyone can develop lung cancer if they are exposed to second-hand smoke, radon, diesel exhaust or other airborne substances, such as asbestos. Other risk factors for lung cancer include family history and radiation therapy in the chest.  

What are the symptoms of lung cancer? 

Lung cancer may or may not cause symptoms, especially early in the disease. Common symptoms include:: 

  • a persistent cough that doesn’t go away or gets worse over time
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • hoarseness
  • coughing up sputum (mucus) that contains blood
  • ongoing or constant fatigue (tiredness)
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss for no known reason 

Learn more about symptoms and risk factors of lung cancer

Related links

Source: Allina Health Cancer Institute
Reviewed by: Allina Health Cancer Institute

Last reviewed: 10/6/2021