Cancer Care Patient Care

Lung Cancer – The Basics

Lung cancer is a condition that manifests in the lung tissue, often resulting from smoking. Symptoms include progressively worse cough, difficulty breathing, weight loss and fatigue. There are many options for diagnosing lung cancer, and its progress or stage determines treatment options. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States but often doesn’t cause symptoms, which makes regular screenings (if you’re eligible) vitally important. Screening also increases the likelihood of catching lung cancer in its earlier, easier treated stages.

What is lung cancer?

The lungs are the organs responsible for bringing air and oxygen into the body as well as removing unnecessary gases like carbon dioxide. Cancer beginning in the lungs occurs when abnormal cells begin to grow out of control in the lung tissue. The tumors beginning in these organs can spread to lymph nodes, tissues and other organs in the chest as it progresses.

Are there different types of lung cancer?

There are two main types of lung cancer and a number of smaller sub-types. Your physicians will look at a sample of your cancer cells under a microscope to determine which type of lung cancer you have, because each type requires a different treatment plan.

The two main types of lung cancer are:

  1. Non-small cell lung cancer: most lung cancers fall into this category, meaning the cancerous cells are large and the condition is most often treated surgically
  2. Small-cell lung cancer: representing about 10-15 percent of lung cancers, this type has smaller, round looking cells and is more often treated with chemotherapy

What are the symptoms of lung cancer?

The symptoms of lung cancer vary depending on the location of the tumor and the patient’s overall state of health. In some cases, lung cancer doesn’t cause any symptoms, so it’s important to undergo screening if you’re at higher risk of developing lung cancer. Symptoms include:

  • Persistent or worsening cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Struggling to breathe
  • Pain in the chest
  • Fatigue
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen veins in the neck
  • Facial swelling

How is lung cancer treated?

Depending on its stage, several treatment methods may be necessary to address lung cancer. Treatment methods include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy

Treating Lung Cancer at Washington University

Lung cancer is one of many cancers actively treated by Washington University Physicians at Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, where our mission is to prevent cancer in the community and transform cancer patient care through scientific discovery. The combined expertise and experience of our researcher-physicians reduces the cancer burden, regionally and nationally. Our program has developed from an intimate partnership with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, institutions recognized for their medical excellence.

Patients who come to Siteman Cancer Center for treatment of lung cancer are seen by a team of Washington University Physicians— surgical, medical and radiation oncologists — often during the same visit.

Siteman Cancer Center has an online tool that helps patients assess their cancer risk and suggest ways to lower it. It’s available at

If you have questions about a lung cancer screening appointment, please call 314-788-3731. To seek out options for screening and request an appointment, please fill out the appointment form. Newly diagnosed patients also may call the registered nurses in our Patient Care Coordination Center, toll-free at 800-600-3606 from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays.