About Lung Cancer

What Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer begins as abnormal cells in the lungs, and forms into malignant tumors. Early diagnosis is key to treating lung cancer, as its symptoms are often not apparent until it has already spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body. Using the most comprehensive, clinically proven techniques, the caring oncologists and staff members at Orange County CyberKnife and Radiation Oncology Center are committed to help you understand the diagnosis and apply a treatment regimen customized for your distinct needs.

Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer found in both men and women; respectively, prostate and breast cancer are more common. It is the leading cause of cancer-related death in both men and women in the U.S. with one in four cancer deaths attributed to it. Lung cancer is especially prevalent in people aged 60 or older who smoke and who are exposed to secondhand smoke and other toxins. Symptoms include coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, and rapid weight loss.

Compared to other types of cancer, lung cancer has a lower five-year survival rate at 17.8%. However, this percentage increases dramatically when the disease is caught before it spreads to other parts of the body. More than half of people diagnosed with lung cancer die within a year; Orange County CyberKnife will chart out the best solution to fit your condition.

There are two major types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). During your consultation, your oncologist will plan out the best course of action depending on this distinction.

  • NSCLC is the most common form of lung cancer, accounting for 80 percent of all diagnoses. This type spreads more slowly than SCLC and is divided into three sub-categories: adenocarcinoma, which is found in the outer lung; squamous cell carcinoma, discovered in the center of the lung near an air tube; and large cell carcinoma, which can appear in any part of the lung and tends to spread faster than other types of NSCLC.
  • SCLC is the type of lung cancer that is mostly commonly associated with cigarette smoking. It is divided into two sub-categories: small cell carcinoma and combined SCLC, which includes large cells.

A less common third form of lung cancer, carcinoid tumors, develop more slowly than other forms and typically require surgery to treat.

Treatment options for lung cancer are varied and are dependent on the specific type of cancer, its stage, and individual treatment goals based on a patient’s specific needs. At Orange County CyberKnife we provide a comprehensive approach to treating lung cancer based on these criteria: options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, clinical trials, and/or palliative care. Recent studies show patients have had more favorable results when their early stage operable lung cancer was treated with CyberKnife stereotactic radiation therapy (SABR) rather than surgery.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for the development of lung cancer. Some are hereditary, but many are lifestyle choices that you make every day.

  • Smoking – Cigarette smoking is the primary risk factor for developing lung cancer, linked to 80% in women and 90% in men of lung cancers in the U.S. Male smokers are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer compared to non-smokers; 13 times more likely in women. Smoking pipe tobacco and cigars also raise the risk. Tobacco smokers inhale a toxic blend of more than 7,000 chemicals, and the more they smoke, the greater the risk becomes. People who quit smoking can begin to slowly lower the risk of getting lung cancer.
  • Secondhand Smoke  If you are exposed to secondhand smoke at work, home, or school, you are increasing your chances of getting lung cancer by 20% to 30%. Secondhand smoke causes more than 7,300 non-smoker deaths each year.
  • Radon  Radon is a naturally occurring carcinogen found in the earth that causes lung cancer, and can be difficult to detect as it is invisible and odorless. Because it is a byproduct of the radioactive decay of uranium in the soil, the levels that you may be exposed to in your home or at work can vary depending on your geographic location. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer. One in 15 homes is thought to have excessive radon levels. The USDA recommends testing your home from radon and implementing strategies to lower it if it is too high. Smoking significantly increases the risk of mortality in cancer patients who are exposed to radon.
  • Personal Or Family History – If there is a history of lung cancer in your immediate family, you are at an increased risk. If you have had lung cancer before and you still smoke, there is a chance it will reappear.
  • Chest Radiation Therapy – If you have had radiation therapy to your chest area previously, there is a greater chance you could develop lung cancer.
  • Diet – Research continues to try to connect any food or beverages that may cause cancer. They have determined that smokers who take beta-carotene supplements are at a greater risk. Additionally, low levels of arsenic in well water has been linked to cancer.

Lung cancer symptoms usually do not occur until later stages when it is harder to cure. Even when they do occur earlier, they are often mistaken for symptoms of other problems and not lung cancer. When lung cancer is found earlier, by accident, usually from testing for other illnesses, there is a good chance for survival. The American Cancer Society recommends lung cancer screenings for those who are more at risk to help find and beat the disease. After a medical examination and collection of family history, if you meet ALL of the criteria below, you and your doctors should discuss the benefits and potential harms of an annual lung cancer screening:

  • 55 to 74 years old
  • In fairly good health (discussed further on)
  • Have at least a 30 pack-year smoking history (see previous section)
  • Are either still smoking or have quit smoking within the last 15 years

Imaging Screenings For Lung Cancer

If your physical exam and medical history suggest you may have lung cancer, your doctor may order diagnostic screenings to look for the abnormal cell growth. Lung cancer screenings should only be performed at facilities like Orange County CyberKnife’s imaging center that have years of experience using LDCT scans for lung cancer screening and that have a team of experienced radiation oncology specialists available to follow up with possible treatment options should the need arise. The following imaging services are available on-site to confirm if you have lung cancer:

  • Chest X-ray – This test will show images of the lungs and surrounding tissue and is usually the first test your doctor will order to determine if you have any signs of lung cancer. If the X-rays show any cell abnormalities (usually as shaded areas), your doctor will order additional tests.
  • CT Scan – The CT scan will combine many X-ray pictures to make a detailed cross-sectional image of your chest. A CT scan is more likely to show tumors than a routine X-ray and it can also show more details such as the shape, size, and position of the tumor. CT scans can also show any enlarged lymph nodes that might contain cancer.  A low-dose CT scan, called a LDCT screening, is available to help people with no symptoms of lung cancer ensure that they remain cancer-free. Radiology oncologists at Orange County CyberKnife use CT scans to monitor the growth and movement of cancer in patients.
  • MRI Scan – Like CT scans, an MRI can show precise images of the tissue in your lungs. The difference is an MRI uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make the pictures, giving doctors different information about what can be seen.
  • PET/CT Scan – This type of scan goes beyond the 3D images provided by a CT scan to show what is happening in the tissue of your lungs at a cellular level. A PET scan can also show cancerous cells before any structural changes appear. PET scans are also used to show if cancer has spread to the bones. Using this scan, CyberKnife’s radiology oncologists can properly diagnose the stage of your lung cancer and work with you to develop the best focus treatment for your individual situation.

Diagnosing Lung Cancer

Once doctors determine from your screenings that you may have lung cancer, they will order additional tests that involve actually looking at your cells through a microscope to confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage of the cancer.

  • Sputum Cytology – This test examines mucus you cough up from your lungs (called sputum) under a microscope to check for abnormal cells. Doctors usually get samples from you for three days in a row. This test is most likely to diagnose cancers existing in your lung’s major airways.
  • Thoracentesis – If you have fluid built up around your lungs, doctors can use this procedure to relieve your symptoms and see if it is caused by cancer spreading to the lining of the lungs. The buildup could be caused by other ailments, such as heart failure or an infection. Doctors use a hollow needle inserted between the ribs to drain the fluid. Then, a microscope is used to find out if the fluid has cancer cells. Sometimes chemical tests are used to find out if the cancer is malignant.
  • Needle Biopsy – When abnormal tissue or a tumor is suspected, doctors will often use a tiny needle to extract a sample of the tissue. A pathologist examines these cells under a microscope to determine if they are cancerous and if the cancer is malignant (spreading) or benign (contained). This test often provides the most precise analysis for lung cancer. These procedures do not require an incision, but sometimes the sample is so small, they do not have enough to get a good test.
  • Bronchoscopy (Blue-Light Bronchoscopy & Autofluorescence Bronchoscopy)  A test that helps doctors find tiny tumors or blockages in the larger airways of the lungs. The procedure involves inserting a small, flexible fiber optic tube into the lungs and then a video camera using both a blue light and white light capture images. The blue light shows healthy tissues as green and abnormal tissues as reddish-brown. This procedure can also guide a tiny biopsy needle to grab a sample of the abnormal tissue.

Find Out More By Contacting Us Today

Our Orange County CyberKnife and Radiation Oncology Center staff want you to know that our doctors are here to help you find the best treatment option available to you at our comprehensive cancer center.

Use these links to find out more about lung cancer:

You can also contact us today by calling (714) 962-7100 with your questions. Orange County CyberKnife is your comprehensive cancer center in Southern California that offers multiple advanced radiation treatments, including the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery system. You can trust us to help choose a treatment option that is right for you.