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Understanding Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a significant health problem in the United States and is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women. Approximately 220,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed each year and nearly 160,000 people die from this disease annually.

Lung cancer develops over many years. While changes in the lung tissue may begin to appear soon after exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing substances), it takes several years for a lung tumor to develop.

Early detection of lung cancer is key to significantly decreasing deaths from this disease. If detected at an early stage, up to 60 percent of patients can be treated and cured. Lung cancer is highly preventable—smoking is the No. 1 cause of the disease. If you smoke, find out how you can quit today. To discuss your options with one of our tobacco facilitators, contact the location closest to you. In Alma call (989) 466-3661; Clare (989) 802-5014; Gladwin (989) 246-6388; and Midland (989) 837-9126.

Signs and Symptoms

Generally, lung cancer has no symptoms in its earliest stages. Although coughing is the most common symptom as this disease progresses, there are several additional indicators. Talk to your doctor if you have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Coughing that persists and worsens over time
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Repeated episodes of pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Hoarseness that lasts more than two weeks
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained loss of appetite or weight

Risk Factors and Prevention

Researchers have identified several factors that may put you at risk for lung cancer. You have the power to prevent lung cancer before it strikes you by avoiding these hazards:

  • Smoking - Smoking is by far the leading risk factor for lung cancer. Cigarette smoke contains thousands of different chemicals, many of which are proven cancer-causing agents. If you smoke, find out how you can quit today.
  • Secondhand smoke - Exposure to secondhand smoke also elevates your risk. For example, nonsmoking spouses of smokers have a 30 percent greater risk of developing lung cancer than do nonsmoking spouses of nonsmokers.
  • Radon - Radon is an invisible, odorless gas that occurs naturally in the soil. Radon may be present in some homes, so it's a good idea to test for radon before buying a house. Once radon is eradicated in a home, the hazard is gone.
  • Asbestos - Asbestos is used in some industrial substances, such as insulation. The fibers from these products tend to break down, and when inhaled, they become stuck in the lungs - increasing your chance of developing cancer.
  • Hazardous chemicals - Some work environments may expose employees to asbestos, radon, uranium, arsenic, coal products, gasoline, diesel exhaust and other chemicals that could lead to lung cancer. Avoid contact with these substances as much as possible, and follow recommended guidelines for personal protection when working with them.

You can also decrease your risk of developing lung cancer by exercising for at least 30 minutes three or four days a week, and eating a well-balanced, low-fat diet each day, with five or more servings of fruits and vegetables and 25 to 30 grams of fiber.

Diagnosing Lung Cancer

Diagnosing lung cancer may require taking a tissue sample (biopsy) based on the location of your tumor. Current biopsy methods include:

  • Bronchoscopy - Using a flexible tube (fiber-optic bronchoscope) passed down your airway, your doctor can look inside your lungs and remove a tissue sample for examination in the lab.
  • Mediastinoscopy - While you're under anesthesia, an instrument is passed through a small incision at the base of your neck, allowing doctors to take a biopsy of lymph nodes in your chest. This type of biopsy helps a surgeon define the extent of the tumor and determine whether to perform an operation.
  • Thoracentesis - If fluid is present, your doctor can remove a sample by inserting a thick needle into your chest between the ribs. The sample is then tested in the lab for the presence of cancer cells. If you have a lot of fluid in your chest, the procedure can also relieve pressure and temporarily improve your breathing.
  • CT-guided biopsy - A doctor or technician inserts a needle into your chest wall under the guidance of a computed tomography (CT) scanner.

Once diagnosis is complete, your treatment will be based on the stage of your cancer.

Lung Cancer Screening Clinic for High-Risk Patients

MidMichigan Health offers a Lung Cancer Screening Clinic for those that meet the following criteria of being at high risk for the disease:

  • Individuals 55 – 74 years of age who have a smoking history of 30 pack-years (equivalent of one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years)
  • Individuals 55 – 74 years of age who have quit smoking within the last 15 years and have no signs or symptoms of lung cancer
  • Individuals age 50 years or older with a smoke history of 20 pack-years or more and one of the following additional risk factors:
    • Diagnosis of COPD or pulmonary fibrosis
    • Exposure to radon
    • Regular exposure to one of the following: asbestos, silica, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium, chromium, diesel fumes and nickel
  • Personal or family history of cancer

At a patient’s initial visit to the clinic, there will be a clinical assessment, review of tobacco history, commitment to quit tobacco and referral to a tobacco cessation facilitator, order for low-dose CT lung cancer screening and an order for any aids to assist with tobacco cessation.

Patients will then have the low-dose CT (LDCT) scan. At a follow-up visit, results will be reviewed and further work-ups or screenings ordered based on the test findings.

To schedule an appointment with the Lung Cancer Screening Clinic, call (989) 488-5450. You can also assess if you are recommended for this screening by taking our FREE Lung Health Assessment.

The MidMichigan Difference

Accredited by the American College of Surgeons, MidMichigan Health's cancer treatment centers are unlike any other cancer center in the region. We offer:

  • Trained experts who are available to review each case through multidisciplinary cancer conferences
  • Referrals to highly skilled specialists and oncologists
  • Information about lung cancer types, stages and national treatment recommendations
  • Treatment options that may include chemotherapy, radiation oncology and surgery
  • Access to alternative treatments, including integrative medicine
  • Hope and support during every phase of your diagnosis and treatment
  • MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland has an Oncology Nurse Navigator who guides patients through their course of treatment
  • The Maria Mencia Cancer Caregiver Support Network, which offers support for caregivers by linking them with volunteer coaches through a partnership with Cancer Services in Midland.
  • A Lung Cancer Screening Clinic at MidMichigan Medical Offices - Midland, Pulmonology Office, which offers high-risk patients a comprehensive approach to screening for lung cancer.