Lung cancer forms in tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining air passages. It starts from a single cell, but usually includes millions of cells by the time it can be seen by an X-ray. Cancer cells lose their previous function in the body. Instead they grow faster than regular cells. They cause the body to weaken and prevent organs from working. The two main types of lung cancer are small cell lung cancer, which spreads quickly and non-small cell lung cancer, which is more common and spreads slowly. More than 225,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Treatment depends on the type and stage of lung cancer and may include one or more treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or targeted drug therapy.
The specialists in The Lung Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) provide the most advanced diagnostic and staging methods and offer proven treatments for patients with lung cancer, including minimally invasive surgical techniques aided by video and robotic technology. Our thoracic surgeons are the surgical team for Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), an exceptional collaboration between two world-class medical centers.
Read the Pulmonary Advances Newsletter article: Real-time Image-guided Video-assisted Thoracic Surgery Procedures Help to Remove Small Lung Cancers Less Invasively
Our physicians work closely together to provide all the clinical resources you need during your cancer treatment. Your health care team includes distinguished thoracic surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, pulmonologists and medical oncologists. DF/BWCC's Women's Lung Cancer Program offers advanced care for women with lung cancer along with a wide range of support services, including the Women's Lung Cancer Forum.
Many of the new diagnostic tools and advances in the treatment of lung cancer were developed at BWH and DF/BWCC. As part of the evaluation for lung cancer, patients’ tumors undergo a molecular evaluation to determine which drugs and procedures are best suited to give the patient the best outcome.
There are two major types of lung cancer:
Smoking tobacco is the most significant risk for developing this type of cancer, typically affecting people older than 45. Factors that contribute to an increased risk for developing lung cancer include:
Lung cancer may not cause any symptoms and may be found on a routine chest X-ray or low-dose chest CT scan. Signs and symptoms of lung cancer may include:
Diagnosis of lung cancer often includes a number of different tests and procedures, many conducted by your thoracic surgeon:
Thoracic surgeon Michael Jaklitsch, MD and thoracic radiologist Francine Jacobson, MD have developed a tool for the American Association for Thoracic Surgery to determine if a patient should be screened for lung cancer.
This unique program offers eligible patients CT scans to screen for lung cancer. Eligible patients must be between the ages of 55 and 79 who smoked one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years.
Learn more about lung cancer screening.
The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the lungs or to other parts of the body is called staging. The stage is determined from the results of physical exams, imaging tests and biopsies that have been done. Learn more about the stages of lung cancer.
Depending on its type and stage, lung cancer may be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, local ablation including laser therapy, or a combination of treatments. Treatment options include:
Surgery is usually the best option for treating early-stage lung cancer and may be used to remove a portion of the lung or the entire lung. Our thoracic surgeons have pioneered the use of minimally invasive video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS), and continue to develop innovative approaches to achieving the best outcomes for lung cancer patients.
Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center is home to one of the few dedicated thoracic surgery intensive care units in the country, with sub-specialized nursing staff and state-of-the-art healthcare resources.
Types of Surgery
Minimally Invasive Surgery
Using minimally invasive surgery techniques over traditional surgeries offers patients many benefits: improved accuracy and visualization, minimized trauma to tissue, less bleeding, decreased pain, less scarring and a shortened recovery.
Non-Surgical Cancer Treatments
When you become a patient of The Lung Center you will meet many members of the team who will carefully review your medical history and studies. In addition, you will receive a thorough diagnostic examination where you will receive a recommendation for a therapy tailored just for you, based on your cancer type, stage and wishes.
The specialists in The Lung Center provide a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, collaborating with colleagues in other medical specialties. Any surgery recommended will be performed by an experienced, board-certified thoracic surgeon who specializes in lung cancer, in collaboration with a treatment team including an oncologist, radiation oncologist, anesthesiologist, radiologist and pathologist, as well as nurses and physician assistants, all of whom specialize in taking care of patients with lung cancer or thoracic conditions. Your surgeon works in close collaboration with the experts in the Thoracic Oncology Program to tailor an individual treatment plan for you. Our specialized care team has some of the best results in the country. After treatment, routine life-long surveillance will be necessary.
Learn more about our eight-week Smoking Cessation Program.
Go to our online health library to learn more about lung cancer.
Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.
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