Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.  Over 170,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year.  Lung cancer is primarily caused by cigarette smoking, though 15 to 20 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed in non-smokers.  Lung cancer is a complex disease that requires a team approach for diagnosis and treatment.

The symptoms of lung cancer are non-specific.  Patients often present with cough and may cough up blood.  Lung cancer does not generally cause symptoms until it is advanced, so it has been hard to detect at an early, curable stage.  Currently, only 20 percent of patients present with lung cancer at an early stage. 

Diagnosis and Treatment
Treatment of lung cancer is based on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis. Stage refers to the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to lymph nodes in the chest or other places in the body. Early stage lung cancer is usually treatable surgically, while advanced cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. The stage of a lung cancer is established by imaging techniques, such as CT scan, PET scan, MRI and biopsies. Biopsies for lung cancer can be done with bronchoscopy, needle biopsy or lung surgery. Once the stage of lung cancer is established, treatment decisions can be made.

Because lung cancer is a complex disease to diagnose and treat, doctors from many different specialties are involved in a patient’s treatment plan. The team of specialists includes:

  • Thoracic surgeons
  • Pulmonologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Pathologists
  • Radiologists

At Albany Medical Center, the Multi-Specialty Lung Cancer Program was established to provide state-of-the-art, comprehensive care for our lung cancer patients.

New research in screening for lung cancer was recently published and found that yearly low-dose CT scans for heavy smokers between the age of 55 and 74 reduced lung cancer deaths by 20 percent.  Though insurance is not covering these scans yet, routine screening for lung cancer may be available soon.