Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Lung cancer is most often caused by cigarette smoke, but it also can be caused by other environmental factors.
The two most common types of lung cancer are small-cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is the more common type, accounting for 85% of lung cancers. Doctors differentiate between these types of cancer by studying lung cells at a microscopic level.
A patient’s medical history and symptoms, along with findings from a physical exam, will determine how his or her cancer is diagnosed, while results of diagnostic tests will determine the stage of the cancer and treatment options.
Early detection can significantly improve the ability to successfully treat lung cancer.
A screening test for lung cancer is performed before a patient has any symptoms that indicate cancer is present. When abnormalities are found early on a screening test, the cancer can be easier to treat.
The main screening test to detect lung cancer is a low-dose CT scan. If a screening test discovers an abnormality, the next step is a diagnostic test.
A diagnostic test is used to determine if abnormality in the screening test is cancerous. The test involves taking and studying sample tissue or fluid from around the lung.
If a diagnostic test reveals cancerous cells, a staging test is conducted. A staging test determines the state of the cancer based on where the cancer cells are located, the growth of the cancerous tissue (e.g. the size of the tumor) and whether the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.
For non-small cell lung cancer, there are four stages with stage one being the earliest and stage four being the most advanced. There are two stages of small cell lung cancer; a limited stage and extensive stage. Lung cancer diagnosis is largely based on how far the cancer has spread.
Methods to treat lung cancer include surgery, radiation, radiofrequency ablation, chemotherapy, targeted treatments and immunotherapy. These methods can be used alone or in combination.
The type of treatment a doctor recommends will depend on the patient’s type and stage of cancer. Possible side effects also are taking into consideration.
PCCMA, Central Pennsylvania’s largest independent pulmonary practice group, performs screenings to detect lung cancer and other lung diseases.
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