Physician Q&A: Lung Cancer
Physician Q&A: What You Should Know About Lung Cancer
Lung cancer (both small cell and non-small cell) is the second most common cancer in both men and women (not counting skin cancer).
The American Cancer Society’s estimates for lung cancer in the United States for 2019 are:
- Approximately 228,150 new cases a year of lung cancer (116,450 in men and 111,710 in women)
- Approximately 142,670 deaths a year from lung cancer (76,650 in men and 66,020 in women)
- More people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined
We spoke with Dr. Rona Spector, thoracic surgeon, who practices at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, to learn more about lung cancer in honor of November being Lung Cancer Awareness month, to learn more about the risk factors and other lung diseases of the lung.
Q: What is lung cancer and what are the risk factors for it?
A: Lung cancer is a malignant tumor arising from the lung tissue or the airways. Lung cancer is divided into two types: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, which require very different treatment approaches. Non-small cell lung cancer makes up 85 percent of diagnoses and within it are three subtypes: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. The main treatment of non-small cell lung cancer is surgical resection. If it’s an early stage cancer, than surgical resection might be all that is required. If the tumor is more advanced, than medical treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation might be added to the treatment, either prior or after the surgery. Heavy smoking is a risk factor to developing lung cancer, but unfortunately, we find lung cancer also in patients who never smoked.
Q: Are nodules found in the lungs always cancerous?
A: Lung nodules are not always cancerous. With the advancements in lung imaging, we see more patients with lung nodules. Nodules are a general name to describe small masses in the lung tissue. They can appear as solid round spots or hazy shadows on a CAT scan of the chest. Their size can vary between 2 mm to 3 cm (1.2 inches). A nodule that exceeds 3 cm is called a mass, and is more concerning to be cancerous. Noncancerous lung nodules are often caused by previous or current infections and usually require no treatment but do require chest imaging surveillance to see if a lung nodule grows or changes over time.
Q: What innovations are helping the fight against lung cancer?
A: There is a persistent effort to improve lung cancer treatment. Multiple studies and new innovative tools and drugs are being tested in order to achieve more efficient medical treatment, such as immunotherapy drugs that help the body’s immune system recognize and fight cancer cells, and better surgical tools to facilitate precise and safe surgical resection. Lung cancer treatment is constantly evolving and improving.
Q: If someone has a diagnosis of lung cancer, who will they see for patient care?
A: Taking care of lung cancer is a multi-disciplinary effort. Several specialists work together as a team to provide the best care, tailored to each person. The team includes a thoracic surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, interventional pulmonologist and interventional radiologist working to expedite the diagnosis and formulate the best management plan for the patient.
Left to right: Jennifer McColgan, PA-C, MPH, Navigator for Lung Cancer Screening program; Thoracic Surgeons Rona Spector, MD and Christian Campos, MD.