Whether you suspect you may have lung cancer or have already been diagnosed, you can take comfort in knowing that Gundersen’s lung cancer specialists are here for you and your family. Our cancer team is ready to provide you with comprehensive, individualized care and walk with you through your cancer journey.
Gundersen Health System offers lung cancer screening for individuals at high risk such as current or past heavy smokers and those age 55 years or older. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that patients who are heavy smokers consider having yearly low-dose lung screening CT (computed tomography) scans. The recommendation also applies to patients who used to smoke heavily but have quit. For both groups, yearly screening has been shown to reduce the chance of dying from lung cancer.
If you are at risk, yearly CT scans are the only method proven to find lung cancers that have the best chance of a cure. If you wait until symptoms of lung cancer are present, there is a good chance that you have advanced disease.
Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance companies cover the low-dose chest CT scan for qualifying high-risk individuals. It is important to check with your health insurance provider to see if a lung screening is a covered benefit for you.
You will also need to establish care with a Gundersen primary care provider, who will determine if you’re eligible for this screening. Your provider will discuss the risks and benefits, and order the screening test if you are a candidate.
What is lung cancer?
Lung cancer usually starts in the main airways of the lungs, known as the bronchi, but can also start in other areas of the lungs. It is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Each year there are more than 200,000 new cases of lung cancer.
Lung cancers are believed to develop over a period of many years. Until recently, there has been no screening tool for this disease and most cancers were diagnosed in the late stages. With the implementation of CT screening, early stage cancer diagnosis is anticipated to rise, substantially increasing survival rates.
Smoking is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer. The most important way to reduce your risk is to not smoke or stop smoking, or to avoid exposure to tobacco smoke. People who quit smoking start benefitting from improved health right away and greatly reduce their risk of developing and dying from lung cancer. Gundersen’s comprehensive tobacco cessation program can help you quit. Ask your primary care provider for details.
Types of lung cancers
There are different types of lung cancer involving various areas of the lung. Each type may cause different symptoms and is treated uniquely. It is important to determine what type of lung cancer a patient may have prior to any type of treatment.
Non-small cell lung cancer
Non-small cell lung cancer makes up about 85 to 90 percent of lung cancers. The three main kinds of non-small cell lung cancer are named for the type of cells in the tumor:
- Squamous cell carcinoma – Squamous cell carcinoma often begins in the bronchi near the middle of the lungs. This cancer is often seen in people with a smoking history.
- Adenocarcinoma – Adenocarcinoma usually begins along the outside edges of the lungs and is the most common lung cancer in people who never smoked.
- Large cell carcinomas – Large cell carcinomas are a group of cancers with large, abnormal-looking cells. These tumors may begin anywhere in the lungs and tend to grow quickly.
Small cell lung cancer
Small cell lung cancer is sometimes called oat cell cancer because the cancer cells may look like oats when viewed under a microscope. This type of cancer grows rapidly and quickly spreads to other organs. There are two stages of small cell lung cancer:
- Limited - In this stage, cancer is generally found in just one lung. There may also be cancer in nearby lymph nodes on the same side of the chest.
- Extensive - In this stage, cancer has typically spread into the opposite lung or into other areas of the body.
Symptoms we treat
Symptoms of lung cancer may not be present in the early stages of the disease. The presence of symptoms may mean that the cancer has spread. Many symptoms of lung cancer can be caused by other problems. See your primary care provider if you have any concerns.
Treatments we offer
Treatment of lung cancer depends on the type of cancer, the stage, the location and whether the cancer has spread. We evaluate each patient to determine which treatment is most appropriate. Treatment may include:
- Pneumonectomy – A pneumonectomy is the surgical removal of an entire lung. This surgery may be recommended depending on the location and size of the tumor, the function of your lungs prior to surgery and whether the cancer has spread to other areas of your body.
- Lobectomy – A lobectomy is a surgery to remove a lobe of the lung—the right lung has three lobes while the left lung has two. This is done when cancer is found in just part of a lung. Your lungs are able to function with the healthy lobes that remain.
- Segmentectomy or wedge resection – During a wedge resection, or segmentectomy, your surgeon takes out only the tumor and a small portion of the lung around it, rather than an entire lobe. Your surgeon may recommend this procedure if it’s likely that your lungs would not be able to function properly with the removal of an entire lobe.
- Sleeve resection – A sleeve resection is done when the cancer is in a bronchus near where it connects to the lung. A surgeon will remove the cancerous portion of the bronchus and reconnect the lung to the remaining healthy part of the bronchus. This procedure is done to avoid removing the entire lung.
- Video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) – This less invasive procedure is used to treat early stage lung cancer, especially smaller tumors. Rather than making a large incision, your surgeon makes several smaller cuts so that a small camera and special instruments can be inserted into your chest and lung to remove the tumor. VATS often results in less pain after surgery, faster recovery and less complications during and after surgery.
- Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) – RFA is an option for those who don’t want or can’t have surgery. A thin needle is passed through the chest wall until it touches the tumor. An electric current is sent through the tumor to heat and destroy the cancer cells.
Chemotherapy uses medicine to kill cancer cells. Not everyone who has lung cancer needs chemotherapy, though it is part of standard treatment for many.
Radiation therapy uses pointed X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink or destroy tumors. It can be an option for those who have an early stage cancer but are not a candidate for surgery, though it can also be used for more advanced cancers. Some people may go through radiation therapy to relieve symptoms from cancer that has spread. Radiation therapy is often just one part of a cancer treatment plan.
Immunotherapy uses your body's immune system to fight lung cancer. Your care team will help you decide if immunotherapy is the right treatment option for you.
Many patients will have a combination of these treatment options during the course of their therapy.