Jefferson University Hospitals

Lung Cancer

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Your lungs are a pair of sponge-like organs inside your chest. Cancer of the lung starts in your lung tissues, versus malignant (cancerous) cells that start elsewhere in the body and metastasize (spread) to the lungs.

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the U.S., but the overall survival rate improves by quitting smoking and by eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke. Plus, early screening and detection for people who do have high risk factors like smoking can improve survival rates by as much as 20 percent.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

Most lung cancer symptoms include chest pain, trouble breathing or shortness of breath, wheezing, a cough that won’t go away or a cough that gets worse over time. Some people develop symptoms in the throat and mouth including hoarseness, trouble swallowing or coughing up bloody mucus.

Other less obvious symptoms like loss of appetite, weight loss for unknown reasons and feeling tired can also be signs of lung cancer. Occasionally, some people experience swelling in the face and/or veins in the neck.

Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

  • Tobacco smokers
  • Secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Asbestos, radon and air pollution exposure
  • Being age 65 or older
  • People who drink water containing arsenic
  • Prior history of lung cancer
  • Family history of lung cancer

Types of Lung Cancer

Knowing which type you have affects your prognosis and treatment:

  • Non-small Cell – Also called NSCLC, these represent approximately 85 percent of lung cancers. This type of cancer tends to grow and spread more slowly than the other two types.
  • Small Cell – Also called oat cell cancer, this type of cancers accounts for about 10 - 15 percent of lung cancers. It spreads very quickly.
  • Lung Carcinoid Tumor – Also called lung neuroendocrine tumors, these represent fewer than five percent of lung cancers. Most of these tumors grow slowly and rarely spread.

How Lung Cancer is Diagnosed

The specialists at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson and Jefferson’s Lung Nodule Clinic work as a team to confirm your diagnosis. Our thorough examinations begin with a discussion about your symptoms, a review of your medical history and a physical exam. Our doctors may also use minimally invasive video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) or bronchoscopy methods to remove tissue samples for a biopsy. Typically, our doctors will order a series of laboratory tests to look for cancerous cells in your blood or sputum (mucus coughed up from the lungs). Sometimes, a lump or mass can be detected incidentally on an X-ray.

Lung Cancer Screenings

Early lung cancer detection and diagnosis is exceptionally important for good outcomes. Our Lung Cancer Screening Program is a unique, one-day, low-cost service that relies on state-of-the-art screening methods for high-risk patients.  

Jefferson is one of only a few hospitals in the nation offering an advanced level of diagnostic testing programs, including low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), which obtains a multiple-image scan of the entire chest compared to standard X-rays that produce a single image of the whole chest.

Genetic Testing

If you think you may be at an increased risk of developing lung cancer because of your genetics, the experts at Jefferson’s Clinical Cancer Genetics Service can provide genetic risk assessment, genetic counseling and genetic testing.

Treatment Options

Depending on your needs, your entire course of treatment will be managed by world-renowned pulmonologists, surgeons, oncologist, radiologists, pathologists, gastroenterologists, complementary medicine specialists and support program facilitators. The doctors at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson and Jefferson’s Thoracic Oncology Program team are at the forefront of using new drugs and new combinations of radiation therapy, surgery and chemotherapy to improve your lung cancer treatment success. We have a full suite of conventional therapies, but if they prove to be ineffective, you may be able to gain access to new or experimental therapies through national clinical trials in which Jefferson participates.

Your personalized treatment plan may include:

  • Chemotherapy –Using anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells
  • Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy – Also called IMRT, this therapy uses external energy to kill cancer cells
  • Brachytherapy – Inserting radioactive implants directly into the tissue to kill cancer cells
  • Photodynamic Therapy – An experimental light treatment that may reduce the need for lung removal
  •  Surgery – Removing part of a lung or an entire lung to remove the diseased portion from your body

Why Choose Jefferson for Lung Cancer?

The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson and Jefferson’s Lung Nodule Clinic are your Philadelphia area resources for nationally-recognized oncology expertise. We’re rated as one of the nation’s best hospitals for cancer treatment by U.S.News & World Report, and we are one of only 70 National Cancer Institute NCI-designated Cancer Centers in the United States.

Jefferson is proud to have many one-of-a-kind programs including our Thoracic Oncology Program that provides an advanced level of lung cancer treatment and research focused on addressing every aspect of your care. Our Jane and Leonard Korman Respiratory Institute — Jefferson Health and National Jewish Health was formed to better understand lung disease through innovative research and expanded clinical programs for exceptional patient care.

At Jefferson, we not only offer our patients best-in-class lung cancer medical services, our compassionate care includes a support program to meet your emotional and psychological needs, too.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are the best way patients can receive new therapies and procedures. To find out if a clinical trial might be right for you, ask your health care provider or contact the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center Clinical Research Management Office at 215-955-1661.

Next-Day Appointments Available

Call 1-800-JEFF-NOW (1-800-533-3669) to speak with a JEFF NOW® representative who will schedule an appointment for you.