One of the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer worldwide, lung cancer frequently originates in the mucus-producing epithelial cells that line the airways. The cancer develops when healthy cells undergo abnormal changes that alter their normal growth patterns, causing the cells to grow and divide very rapidly. The mutated cells then accumulate, bind together and form masses, sometimes invading nearby tissues and spreading to distant areas of the body.
What causes lung cancer?
The vast majority of lung cancers are caused by smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. Tobacco smoke contains numerous toxins and carcinogens. When inhaled, these harmful substances can damage healthy lung tissues. To a certain extent, the body’s immune system may be able to successfully repair the damage. However, with repeated exposure to tobacco smoke over time, the damage may worsen and become permanent, leading to the development of lung cancer.
Less frequently, lung cancer develops for no known reason. For instance, it sometimes occurs in nonsmokers and individuals who were never exposed to secondhand smoke or other carcinogens, such as radon gas and asbestos. Scientists in the general medical community are still working to understand the precise causes of lung cancer.
What are the signs of lung cancer?
Early-stage lung cancer may not produce noticeable symptoms. As the cancer progresses, it may begin to cause:
- Persistent coughing
- Coughing that produces blood
- Breathing problems, such as wheezing and shortness of breath
- Recurrent upper respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia
- Hoarseness and other vocal changes
- Difficulty swallowing
- Facial swelling
- Pain in the chest, upper back or shoulders
- Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
- Overwhelming fatigue
How is lung cancer diagnosed?
Several tests can be used to diagnose lung cancer and determine whether it has spread to other parts of the body. For instance, the diagnostic process may include a medical history, X-rays and other imaging scans, laboratory tests, biopsies and biomarker tests. However, only a biopsy can provide the basis for a definitive diagnosis.
There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. The specific type is determined based on the appearance of the cells when viewed under a microscope. Most lung cancers are categorized as non-small cell lung cancer, which can be further categorized as squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma or large cell carcinoma. Small cell lung cancer, which is less common, can be further categorized as small cell carcinoma or combined small cell carcinoma.
Moffitt's approach to treating lung cancer
The multispecialty team in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center has the expertise necessary to diagnose and treat all types and stages of lung cancer, including relatively uncommon malignancies. To ensure the best possible outcome and quality of life for each patient, we take an individualized approach to treatment. Our patients benefit from:
Multiple expert opinions
At Moffitt, each patient receives a tailored treatment plan coordinated by experts across numerous disciplines. Our renowned lung cancer team includes surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pulmonologists, pathologists, radiologists, and other medical professionals. These lung cancer specialists also meet weekly as a tumor board to discuss and follow complex cases.
Traditional and cutting-edge lung cancer therapies
Our comprehensive lung cancer program offers standard treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as well as groundbreaking options such as photodynamic therapy, radiofrequency ablation and robotic surgery. For each patient, we consider all appropriate treatment options to determine which approach has the greatest potential.
Groundbreaking cancer research
As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Moffitt is widely recognized for its extensive research efforts and landmark breakthroughs. Through our robust clinical trials program, our patients have access to promising new treatments that are not yet available in other settings.
If you would like to learn more about lung cancer, you are welcome to talk with an oncologist in the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center. Call 1-888-663-3488 for an appointment or complete our new patient registration form online. If you are interested, you can also request information about our Lung Cancer Screening and Surveillance Program.