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Patient Information

Patient Information

Questions Patients Ask About Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer Detection - What Are the Symptoms?

Lung cancer starts when abnormal cells grow out of control in the lung.  They can invade nearby tissues and form tumors.  Lung cancer can start anywhere in the lungs and affect any part of the respiratory system.  Early lung cancer doesn't usually cause any symptoms.  This is why it's not usually found early. (See the Lung Cancer Risk Factors/Warning Signs)

Lung cancers are generally divided into two types:  Squamous cell carcimona (the most common type of lung cancer in men), Adenocarcinoma (the most common type of lung cancer in people who have never smoked) and large cell carcimona (usually begin growing along the outer edge of the lungs).

Although early lung cancer often does not cause symptoms, as the cancer grows, common symptoms may include:

  • A new cough or a cough that does not go away.  Smokers who have a chronic cough from smoking may have a change in how severe their cough is or how much they cough
  • New wheezing
  • Constant chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • A hoarse voice
  • Coughing up blood or bloody mucus
  • Swelling in the neck and face
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Frequent lung infections, such as pneumonia
  • Clubbing of the fingers and toes; tThe nails appear to bulge out more than normal

If you have a symptom that suggests lung cancer, the physicians with St. Mary’s Lung Nodule Clinic are here to help.  Tests may be recommended,  such as:

  • PET/CT
  • Bronchoscopy  and Electromagnetic Navigational Bronchoscopy
  • Needle Biopsy
  • Sputum Cytology
  • Thoracentesis
  • Video-Assisted Thoracoscopy (VATS)

Lung Cancer Detection - Questions for the Doctor

The only sure way to know if lung cancer is present is for a pathologist to check samples of cells or tissue.  The pathologist studies the sample under a microscope and performs other tests. You may want to ask these questions before the doctor takes a sample of tissue:

  • Which procedure do you recommend? 
  • How will the tissue be removed?
  • Will I have to stay in the hospital?  If so, for how long?
  • Will I have to do anything to prepare for it?
  • How long will it take? 
  • Will I be awake? 
  • Will it hurt?
  • Are there any risks?  
  • What is the chance that the procedure will make my lung collapse?
  • What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the procedure?
  • How long will it take me to recover?
  • How soon will I know the results?  Who will explain them to me?
  • If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about next steps?  When?

Lung Cancer - Questions Before Treatment

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before your treatment begins:

  • What is the stage* of my disease?  Has the cancer spread from the lung?  If so, to where?
  • What are my treatment choices?  Which do you recommend for me?  Why?
  • Will I have more than one kind of treatment?
  • What are the expected benefits of each kind of treatment?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment?  What can we do to control the side effects?
  • What can I do to prepare for treatment?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital?  If so, for how long?
  • What is the treatment likely to cost?  Will my insurance cover the cost?
  • How will treatment affect my normal activities?
  • Would a clinical trial be right for me?
  • How often should I have checkups after treatment?

    *The staging of cancer is a system used to measure how severe the disease is.  Tumors get larger and
     spread to other parts of the body as cancer gets worse.

 There are three components to staging:

  • Tumor size (T)
  • Involvement of lymph nodes (N)
  • Whether the tumor has spread (metastisized) from the original site to other parts of the body (M)

This staging system is commonly referred to as the TNM cancer staging system.




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