Lung Cancer

More than 220,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. While smoking remains the leading cause of lung cancer, the disease is growing among non-smokers.

The Swedish Cancer Institute cares for more than 500 lung cancer patients each year. If you have lung cancer, our multidisciplinary team will work together to make sure you get the best treatment available and the support services you and your family need.

Our team of specialists includes oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, pulmonologists and thoracic surgeons. Our thoracic surgeons are renowned for their skills. They offer both traditional and innovative treatments, including robotic lobectomy – an exciting new procedure for treating early stage lung cancer.

Diagnosing Lung Cancer
Staging Lung Cancer
Treating Lung Cancer

Diagnosing Lung Cancer

People with early stage lung cancer may have no symptoms at all. Over time, symptoms appear that may include:

  • Fatigue
  • A persistent cough that worsens over time
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing or hoarseness
  • Repeated lung infections
  • Build-up of fluid around lung

Most people are referred to Swedish's thoracic oncology team when something abnormal shows up on an X-ray or CT scan. Biopsies are performed to extract a small amount of tissue that is evaluated under a microscope by a pathologist.

Staging Lung Cancer

Cancer falls in stages 1 through 4, with 1 being the earliest stage. Establishing the stage of the cancer is key to providing the best possible treatment.

Staging involves determining:

  • The type of lung cancer
  • Where it is located
  • How aggressive it is
  • If it has spread
  • Where and how much it has spread

The specialists at the Swedish Cancer Institute have the widest range of staging technology available, including:

  • CT imaging: to identify any masses in the chest, and whether they affect lymph nodes
  • PET scans: to see if there is cancer in other parts of the body
  • Bronchoscopy: to allow physicians to look at the lungs through an instrument inserted down the airway
  • Endobronchial Ultrasound (EBUS): allows the operator to biopsy a lymph node or mass next to the airway under direct vision to safely and accurately obtain tissue for a diagnosis; EBUS is a minimally invasive tool that allows the patients team to safely and accurately get tissue
  • Mediastinoscopy: to allow surgeons to biopsy lymph nodes around the airways

Much more information about diagnosing and staging lung cancer is available at the Swedish Cancer Institute.

Treating Lung Cancer

Surgery is usually the best option for patients whose cancer has not spread beyond the lungs. Removing a part of the lung is called resection.

Lungs are made up of various sections called lobes; the right lung has three lobes and the left has two. Typically, when treating early stage lung cancer, an entire lobe is removed. This procedure is called a lobectomy.

Options for lobectomy include:

  • Thoracotomy: making an incision on the side of the chest and accessing the lungs by spreading the ribs
  • Sternotomy: splitting the breast bone and opening the chest to gain access to the lungs
  • Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS): operating through multiple small incisions (without any rib spreading) in the chest while viewing the surgical area on a flat screen
  • Robotic lobectomy: operating through small incisions in the chest using flexible instruments that mimic the human wrist, while viewing the surgical area in three dimensions

Swedish is one of the few centers in the Northwest that offers robotic lobectomy. Patients who have a robotic lobectomy typically experience:

  • Less pain
  • A shorter hospital stay
  • A quicker return to daily activities

When diagnostic tests reveal that lung cancer has spread beyond the lungs, treatment plans typically include some combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The Swedish Cancer Institute offers a full spectrum of treatment, care and services, from promising new research trials to counseling and other patient support.