What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs.  As they grow, the abnormal cells can form tumors and interfere with the functioning of the lung, which provides oxygen to the body via the blood.

Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, making up almost 25% of all cancer deaths.  Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

Lung Cancer Types

There are two major types of lung cancer

Staging lung cancer is based on whether the cancer is local or has spread from the lungs to the lymph nodes or other organs.  Knowing the stage of your cancer helps your treatment team understand how advanced your lung cancer is, recommend treatment options that are likely to be most effective for you, and evaluate your response to treatment.

Staging lung cancer is based on whether the cancer is local or has spread from the lungs to the lymph nodes or other organs.  Knowing the stage of your cancer helps your treatment team understand how advanced your lung cancer is, recommend treatment options that are likely to be most effective for you, and evaluate your response to treatment.

Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for about 85 percent of lung cancers and includes:

  • Adenocarcinoma, the most common form of lung cancer in the United States among both men and women;
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for 25 percent of all lung cancers;
  • Large cell carcinoma, which accounts for about 10 percent of NSCLC tumors.

Stages of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

The cancer is located only in the lungs and has not spread to any lymph nodes.

The cancer is in the lung and nearby lymph nodes.

Cancer is found in the lung and the lymph nodes in the middle of the chest, also described as a locally advanced disease. Stage III has two subtypes:

  • If the cancer has spread only to lymph nodes on the same side of the chest where the cancer started, it is called stage IIIA.
  • If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes on the opposite side of the chest, or above the collar bone, it is called stage IIIB.

This is the most advanced stage of lung cancer, and is also described as advanced disease. This is when the cancer has spread to both lungs, to fluid in the area around the lungs, or another part of the body, such as the liver or other organs.

Small cell lung cancer accounts for the remaining 15 percent of lung cancers in the United States.  They tend to grow more quickly than NSCLC tumors. Usually, SCLC is more responsive to chemotherapy than NSCLC.

Stages of Small Cell Lung Cancer

In this stage, cancer is found on one side of the chest, involving just one part of the lung and nearby lymph nodes.

In this stage, cancer has spread to other regions of the chest or other parts of the body.

The American Joint Commission on Cancer implemented a more detailed staging system in which the stages of small cell lung cancer are described using Roman numerals and letters (for example, Stage IIA).  This is the same method that is used for non-small cell lung cancer in describing the growth and spread of the cancer.

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Lung Cancer Symptoms and Screening

Most lung cancers do not cause any symptoms until they have spread. Because the lungs are large, tumors can grow in them for a long time before they are found.  Even when symptoms, such as coughing and fatigue, do occur, people think they are due to other causes. For this reason, early-stage lung cancer (stages I and II) is difficult to detect.  Like with all diseases though, not all patients are the same and some people with early lung cancer do experience symptoms.

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • Coughing that gets worse or does not go away
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Weight loss with no known cause

Because these symptoms may overlap with those of other conditions, it is important to get the correct diagnosis to find the right treatment.  Make an appointment with your primary care physician or pulmonologist if you are experiencing persistent signs and symptoms that concern you. 

Although smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, lung cancer risk also is increased by exposure to secondhand smoke; environmental exposures, such as radon, workplace toxins (e.g., asbestos, arsenic), and air pollution.  The risk of lung cancer can be reduced by quitting smoking and by eliminating or reducing exposure to secondhand smoke and environmental and workplace risk factors.

While lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, the number of deaths from lung cancer continues to drop due to advances in early detection (screenings) and treatment.  As the number of people who smoke decreases, the numbers of new lung cancer cases and deaths decrease.

The main benefit of screening is a lower chance of dying from lung cancer.  The American Cancer Society recommends screening (low-dose CAT scan or CT scan) for:

  • people who are aged 55 to 74 years and are in relatively good health; and
  • who are current smokers who have at least a 30-pack-year smoking history (the number of packs a day multiplied by the number of years you smoke equals “pack years”); or
  • have a 30-pack-year smoking history who quit within the past 15 years.

Austin CyberKnife advocates screening for lung cancer and encourages patients to discuss low-dose CT scans with their physician to better understand the benefits and risks associated with the screening. 

CyberKnife® Treatment for Lung Cancer

Radiation therapy treatment for lung cancer can offer a less invasive approach with quicker recovery times.  Radiation can be employed in numerous ways to aid lung cancer patients:

  • As a mainline treatment if the tumor cannot be removed due to its size or location, or if the person’s overall health makes surgical risk too great;
  • As a way to shrink a tumor before surgery to make it easier to remove;
  • As a secondary treatment following surgery to kill any small areas of cancer that were missed;
  • As treatment for one area of metastasis; and
  • As a way to treat symptoms of more advanced NSCLC

The CyberKnife® Robotic Radiosurgery System painlessly delivers precise beams of radiation to lung tumors and lesions, without requiring incisions, hospitalization, or a long recovery time.  It can serve as an effective lung cancer treatment for patients with early-stage lung cancer, complex tumors, or patients who prefer a noninvasive way to treat their cancer. 

During the CyberKnife treatment, hundreds of highly concentrated and incredibly pinpoint beams of radiation are targeted directly to tumors and lesions in the lung.  CyberKnife can track tumors in real time, which allows patients to be able to breathe normally during each treatment session, and the radiation beam adjusts automatically to the tumor location.  As the patient breathes during the treatment, the CyberKnife robotic arm moves with the rise and fall of his/her body, meaning that healthy tissue is protected from radiation and only the tumor is treated. 

Key Advantages of CyberKnife for Lung Cancer
  • Outpatient procedure, no anesthesia or hospitalization required
  • Five or fewer treatment sessions
  • Noninvasive, no incisions needed
  • Typically pain-free treatment
  • Reaches tumors from virtually unlimited directions with robotic mobility
  • Targets individual tumors with pinpoint accuracy
  • Enables clinicians to maximize and conform the dose to the tumor target
  • Constantly corrects for patient/tumor movement throughout treatment, ensuring radiation beams are always locked on tumor during treatment
  • Respiratory tracking feature requires no breath-holding or respiratory gating by patient
  • Minimal radiation exposure to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor
  • Little to no recovery time and almost immediate return to your normal daily activities
  • Minimal, if any, side effects due to pinpoint precision of high-dose radiation delivery
  • Patients treated with the CyberKnife System may be candidates for re-treatment or re-irradiation with the CyberKnife System, in the event of recurrence.
Additional Information and Resources

More than a two decades of clinical research supports the use of the CyberKnife System for the treatment of a wide range of lung cancers and metastases.  Click here to find key studies and other resources to support your discussion of CyberKnife with your doctor. 

CyberKnife for Lung Cancer Case Study
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Speak with one of our dedicated Austin CyberKnife team members about how we can help.