It’s normal to have questions, or even feel overwhelmed at the thought of lung cancer. But early detection is key to achieving the best outcome possible. It’s important to know your personal risk level for lung cancer, as well as the symptoms to be aware of and how lung cancer is diagnosed so that you can talk to your doctor should you or a loved one experience any signs or symptoms of lung cancer.
Symptoms related to breathing might look like:
- A persistent or chronic cough that gets worse over time
- Frequent pneumonia or bronchitis that doesn’t get better with antibiotics
- A change in the mucus or blood in the mucus
Other symptoms might include weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, bone or back pain (including fractures), headaches, and more.
If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of lung cancer, it is important that you call your healthcare provider immediately or schedule an appointment online for a low-dose CT screening, or call us at (210) 617-9000.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of lung cancer, you’ll likely meet first with your primary care physician, who will order a series of tests.
The first test that your doctor may do is a chest X-ray or a low-dose CT scan to evaluate your chest. If an X-ray and/or CT scan identifies an abnormality, the next step is for your doctor to order a biopsy.
A biopsy may be done various ways. Your doctor may refer you to a pulmonologist for a bronchoscopy, in which the doctor will insert a camera into your lung to take pictures of the abnormality and possibly take a sample of cells. Other times, the primary care physician may refer you to a radiologist who may use CT scan images to obtain a needle biopsy or directly to a surgeon for a biopsy. If a biopsy proves that the abnormal spot or nodule is lung cancer, you will undergo additional tests.
A PET scan will help the physician to understand whether the cancer is limited to the lungs or chest or has begun to spread to lymph nodes or other organs. If the cancer is confined to the chest and can be resected with surgery, the doctor may recommend a pulmonary function test to determine if you are fit to undergo surgery. Another way to treat lung cancer limited to the chest is with focused radiation to the lung nodule. Your doctor may also recommend an MRI to see if the cancer has metastasized to the brain.
These tests will help define where the cancer is located as well as the stage of cancer. The stage of cancer will determine the appropriate treatment. If it’s an early stage cancer (Stage 1 or 2) you may undergo surgery or radiation to destroy the cancer. If the cancer is Stage 3 or 4, it has spread outside of the chest to the lymph nodes or other organs, and you would be treated with chemotherapy and radiation or chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Speaking with your care team
When meeting with your care team, it’s important to discuss the stage of the cancer and the treatment plan. Additionally, your care team should speak with you about broad molecular profiling or other tests that can help refine and tailor the right therapy for you from the beginning. You may also discuss with a member of the palliative care team, who work closely with our medical oncology team to address the symptoms or side effects associated with the lung cancer and its diagnosis, including pain, appetite, difficulty breathing in addition to psychological, social, and spiritual needs which help set patients up for success with all anti-cancer treatments.
Our nurse navigators help patients through every step of the cancer journey. Nurse navigators assist patients throughout their cancer journey by reinforcing patient education, coordinating office visits, serving as an ongoing source of support, and so much more.
Lastly, if you currently use tobacco products, speak with your care team about our smoking cessation services. If you’re ready to be a non-smoker, our Quit Smoking Program offers resources to help you stop smoking, and START on your journey towards a healthy lifestyle. For dates and times of the Quit Smoking Program, please call (210) 575-8235.