Lung cancer care
Allina Health offers a complete range of services to screen for, diagnose and treat lung cancer. We also support all aspects of your well-being – mind, body and spirit – through every phase of treatment.
What it is
Lung cancer forms in the tissues of the lungs, most often in the cells that line air passages. It occurs when these cells start to grow and multiply uncontrollably, usually as a result of exposure to toxins such as tobacco smoke, radiation and asbestos. These cancers tend to start as small masses called nodules. As they grow, they may invade surrounding tissue or spread (metastasize) to lymph nodes inside the chest as well as to distant organs. As the cancer grows, it affects how the lungs function. It can occur in one or both lungs.
The most common lung cancer symptom is a cough that won't go away. Other symptoms include:
- constant chest pain, often made worse by deep breathing, coughing or laughing
- shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
- coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
- loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss
- feeling weak or tired
- arm or shoulder pain
- repeated episodes of pneumonia or bronchitis
- swelling of the neck and face, which occurs when the tumor compresses a large vein, the superior vena cava, that moves blood to the heart from the head and arms
- widening of the fingertips and nail bed (also known as clubbing), which is common in non-small cell lung cancer cases, but rare for small cell lung cancer
Good to know
There are two main types of lung cancer:
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – main cause is smoking
- Large cell carcinoma
- Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) makes up about 20 percent of all lung cancer cases.
If the lung cancer is made up of both types, it is called mixed small cell/large cell cancer.
If the cancer started somewhere else in the body and spreads to the lungs, it is called metastatic cancer to the lung.
Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer that involves the lining of the lung. Although it occurs in the chest, it is not considered a form of lung cancer.
The main risk factors for lung cancer are:
- a history of or current tobacco use
- exposure to second-hand smoke
- exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium or other chemicals
- radiation exposure, including radiation therapy to the breast or chest and radon exposure
- living in an area with air pollution
- a family history of lung cancer
- infection with the human immunodeficiency virus
Good for preventing
Lung Cancer Screening
A low-dose lung screening test can be done to find lung cancer earlier, when treatment may work better. Regular screening is recommended for people who have a history of heavy smoking and meet other screening criteria.
Family history, whether you smoke or live with someone who smokes, where you live and where you work can affect your risk of getting lung cancer.
Cigarette smoking causes about 80 percent of lung cancer deaths. Quitting smoking or never starting are the best ways to prevent lung cancer. Other factors that can increase your risk of developing lung cancer include genetics and exposure to:
- second-hand smoke
- certain chemicals or toxins like asbestos or diesel exhaust
- radon, a naturally occurring gas
Good for treating
Early stage lung cancer often does not have obvious symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may be mistaken for common respiratory illnesses like bronchitis or pneumonia. Because of this, many cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage.
Diagnosing lung cancer usually starts with an imaging test or scan that allows doctors to see inside the lungs. An imaging test can show areas that look abnormal, but it does not prove that you have cancer. If the doctor sees something abnormal, he or she may recommend further testing like a biopsy.
Several types of imaging tests may be used for lung cancer diagnosis:
A biopsy is done to learn if an abnormal area of tissue is cancer. It involves removing a tissue sample from a tumor and testing it to determine if it is cancer.
Biopsies for lung cancer diagnosis are done in different ways, depending the location and size of the tumor:
- CT-guided fine needle aspiration
- endobronchial ultrasound (EBUS).
- needle biopsy
- video-assisted thoracoscopy (VATS)
Your treatment plan for lung cancer considers the tumor’s type, location, size, whether the cancer has spread, and your general health. Treatment can include: