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Understanding Lung Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the most common cancer-related cause of death in the United States. In fact, deaths from lung cancer outnumber deaths from breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.

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.

Lung cancer is highly preventable. Smoking is the number one cause of this life-threatening disease. So if you smoke, find out how you can quit today. To learn about smoking cessation programs call MidMichigan Health Line at (989) 837-9090 or toll-free at (800) 999-3199.   

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.
  • 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.

Use our online self-assessment to learn whether you are at higher risk for Lung Cancer.

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 Clinic for High-Risk Patient Screening

A Lung Clinic is now available through MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center in Alma, which is designed to screen for lung cancer among high-risk patients. Patients are initally screened over the telephone, and if criteria are met, follow-up appointments are then scheduled, which include testing, result evaluation, and treatment development. 

Melissa Hoag, R.N., O.C.N., conducts the free, 10-minute telephone screening. Screening questions include age, smoking history, cancer history, lung disease history, and family history of lung cancer, as well as an examination of patients' exposure to toxic substances such as arsenic and radon.

Follow-up appointments are scheduled through the office of Diane Macdonald, M.D., oncologist and medical director of MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center. Dr. Macdonald may order a CT scan for patients to further diagnose their risk. Based on the results of their testing, she will help patients create a personalized treatment plan. 

For more information on the Lung Clinic, or to schedule a free telephone screening, contact Melissa Hoag at (989) 463-9312.

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 chemotherapyradiation 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 Clinic through MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center, which offers high-risk patients a comprehensive approach to screening for lung cancer.