What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer develops when cancerous cells grow and multiply in the lungs or in the air tubes that lead to them (bronchi). It is one of the most common cancers.
While smoking greatly increases your lung cancer risk, many people who never smoked also get the disease. Women have a higher risk of lung cancer than men.
At Overlake, we offer access to top lung cancer experts, and to specialized expertise and clinical trials via our partnership with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. We get to know every patient and match them with the right therapy for their circumstances – creating the best opportunity to get you back to a healthy, active life.
Why Choose Overlake for Lung Cancer Care?
- World-class expertise, close to home. We offer access to top cancer experts, right here on the East Side. This gives patients easy, convenient access to our team, without having to travel to Seattle. This can be especially important for patients who need radiation treatments, which can involve appointments five days a week.
- Care from an expert team. Overlake Cancer Center offers the latest treatments, while also ensuring every patient has access to a comprehensive team of experts. Our team approach to lung cancer brings together pulmonologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and other providers. This lets our doctors evaluate patients from every angle, trade perspectives and ideas, and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.
- State-of-the-art treatments. Our patients have access to innovative treatments, including immunotherapies and therapies that target the mutations behind specific lung tumors. We also offer the latest lung cancer clinical trials, both here and through our partnership with SCCA. This enables some patients to receive promising new treatments before they’re widely available.
- We put you first. Overlake has some of the region’s highest patient satisfaction scores. This reflects our philosophy that every patient deserves compassionate, personal care. We go out of our way to get to know you and your family. We take time to answer your questions. We work together with you and your loved ones to select the right treatment. And we stay by your side at every step.
What Are the Types of Lung Cancer?
There are two main lung cancer types:
Non-small cell lung cancer: This a category of cancers that start in epithelial cells inside the lungs. Non-small cell lung cancers include adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Non-small cell lung cancers make up about 85% of lung cancer cases.
Small cell lung cancer: This type of lung cancer is almost always caused by smoking. About 15 percent of people with lung cancer have small cell lung cancer. It is usually more aggressive than non-small cell lung cancer. This means it can quickly spread beyond the lungs and into other areas of the body.
What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer doesn’t usually cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. Symptoms begin when the disease becomes more advanced. Symptoms can include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away
- Chest pain
- Coughing up blood (even just a little)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Getting pneumonia or bronchitis over and over
- Feeling short of breath
- Bone pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
If you have these symptoms, it doesn’t mean you have lung cancer. But you should make an appointment with your doctor to identify what’s causing those symptoms as early as possible, when health problems are easiest to treat.
What are Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?
Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. The more you smoke, the greater your risk. The good news is, you can significantly reduce your risk by quitting smoking – even if you’ve smoked for a long time. Other risks include:
- Being exposed to secondhand smoke
- Getting radiation therapy for another cancer
- Living in places with polluted air
- Exposure to hazardous substances or chemicals like asbestos, arsenic, radon gas or chromium
- Having a family history of lung cancer.
Lung Cancer Screening
Lung cancer outcomes greatly improve if detected early. That’s why it’s important to get regularly screened if you’re at risk for the disease. This will help doctors monitor your health and potentially catch lung cancer before it spreads.
Lung cancer screening involves a low-dose CT scan. This scan takes detailed pictures of your lungs to help doctors identify any signs of lung cancer.
Overlake Cancer Center conducts more than 100 screenings per year and follows the latest guidelines from the US Preventive Services Task Force, which recommends that you undergo lung cancer screening every year if:
- You’re between 50 and 80 years old, in relatively good health and:
- You smoke or have quit smoking within 15 years
- You smoked for at least 20 “pack years.” To figure out your pack years, multiply the number of packs you smoked per day by the number of years that you smoked.
We also work closely with primary care providers to be sure that they’re up-to-date with the latest screening recommendations. This will enable them to help more patients get screened so we can identify potential lung cancers as early as possible.
How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects you have lung cancer, they will order tests to look for cancer signs. They usually start with imaging tests, such as a chest x-ray and/or a CT scan. These can reveal unusual masses or lesions that could be collections of cancer cells.
If the imaging tests find something unusual, your doctor may refer you to a specialized center like Overlake Cancer Center. We will evaluate your initial test results, get to know your medical history and decide which tests are right for you. Then we’ll pursue follow-up tests to pinpoint whether you have lung cancer or another condition. These tests can include:
- Tissue sampling (biopsy), where a needle or bronchoscope is used to remove a small amount of tissue from your lungs. Your medical team will test this tissue to see if it’s cancerous.
At Overlake, we use state-of-the-art approaches to perform biopsies. Our team uses CT scans to guide biopsies in some patients. We also use an innovative approach called navigational bronchoscopy, which enables us to utilize GPS-like technology to find small lesions inside the lung. And we use ultrasound to guide biopsies of tissue in the lymph nodes. These technologies enable our team to zero in on even the smallest areas of tissue that might be cancerous. This means we can take samples of the exact tissue that we need to, to be sure you get the most accurate diagnosis.
- Thoracentesis, where a needle is used to remove fluid from around the lungs. That fluid is then tested to see if it contains cancer cells.
- Video-assisted thorascopic surgery (VATS), a minimally invasive procedure where a surgeon uses a small camera and surgical instruments to remove a tissue sample. That sample is then tested to see if it’s cancerous.
What Are the Stages of Lung Cancer?
If your tests indicate lung cancer, your doctor will work to determine your cancer’s stage. This process often includes follow-up tests to see if the cancer has spread. Lung cancer stages are represented numerically from zero to four:
- Stage zero: The tumor or tumors are small and haven’t spread through the lung.
- Stage one: The cancer has spread through some of your lung tissue but hasn’t traveled to your lymph nodes.
- Stage two: The cancer might have spread into lymph nodes close to your lungs.
- Stage three: The cancer has spread into your lymph nodes and chest.
- Stage four: The cancer has spread widely in your body.
How is Lung Cancer Treated?
At the Overlake Cancer Center, we use a team approach to create a treatment plan that is tailored to you. Your care team will include top experts in surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other key areas. These experts will work together to understand your cancer and develop a treatment plan that gives you the best opportunity for a good outcome.
Lung cancer treatment typically includes:
- Surgery: If the cancer is isolated to your lungs, surgeons can use a variety of approaches to remove the sections of your lungs that contain tumors.
- Radiation: Radiation therapy uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells. It can be used to shrink tumors, and to relieve pain and other symptoms. It can also be combined with chemotherapy and surgery, depending on your cancer’s location and stage.
Overlake offers state-of-the-art radiation technology. For example, we offer stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) for early-stage tumors, which uses radiation beams that are more powerful and more precise than traditional radiation therapy. This can allow doctors to treat your cancer in just a handful of visits, instead of requiring weeks of radiation therapy. SBRT also has fewer side effects than conventional radiation.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. It is often used to make tumors smaller so they’re easier to remove with surgery. It’s also used to kill cancer cells that are left over after surgery.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy harnesses your body’s immune system to attack cancer. At Overlake, we offer immunotherapy as standard treatment for patients with advanced lung cancer. We also offer access to the latest immunotherapy clinical trials through our partnership with SCCA.
- Precision therapies that target gene mutations: For some patients, we perform genetic sequencing to identify the exact mutations that drive their tumors. Then we investigate whether there are drugs available that target those mutations. This approach is far more precise, with potentially fewer side effects than traditional radiation and chemotherapy.
Make an Appointment
We’re here for you no matter where you are in your cancer journey, whether you’re worried that you’re at risk of getting lung cancer, or have been diagnosed with the disease and want to learn more about our innovative treatments. Call us today with any questions or to make an appointment: 425-635-3400.