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Cancer of the Lung

What is cancer of the lung?

Cancer of the lung (lung cancer) is an abnormal growth of cells that form tumors in the lung. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, it is still lung cancer, and is called metastatic lung cancer.

There are different types and stages of lung cancer based on what kind of cancer cells are found, where the tumor started and where it has spread. Knowing the type and stage of lung cancer you have helps your healthcare provider decide on the best treatment plan for you. It is important to diagnose and treat lung cancer as soon as possible. The main goals of treatment are to kill the tumor cells, prevent a localized cancer from spreading, and prevent metastatic cancer from spreading more than it already has.

Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the U.S. Smoking tobacco is linked to most cases of lung cancer. In addition to smoking, factors that increase your risk for lung cancer include exposures to:

  • Other people’s smoke (secondhand smoke)
  • Air pollution
  • Radiation at your job or in your environment
  • Exposure to asbestos, radon gas or industrial chemicals, such as the byproducts from petroleum refining

What can I expect in the hospital?

Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:


  • You will be checked often by the hospital staff.
  • Your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature will be checked regularly.
  • Your blood oxygen level will be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.


You may have testing to confirm your cancer diagnosis. Other testing may be done to checking to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Testing may include:

  • Sputum culture: A test in which fluid made in the lungs is tested to check for cancer cells
  • Bronchoscopy: A test in which a thin, flexible, lighted tube called a bronchoscope is passed through your mouth and down into the lungs to see abnormal areas. Sometimes one or more pieces of tissue are removed to help make a diagnosis. This is called a biopsy.
  • Computed tomography (CT) Scan: A series of X-rays taken from different angles and arranged by a computer to show thin sections of the chest and lungs and other areas where the cancer may have spread
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A powerful magnetic field and radio waves are used to take pictures from different angles to show thin sections of the chest and lungs and other areas where the cancer may have spread
  • X-rays: Pictures of the inside of the chest, lungs, and bones to check for cancer
  • Blood tests to check for certain hormones, proteins, or chemicals that may be high if you have cancer
  • Mediastinoscopy: Surgery in which your healthcare provider makes a small cut in the lower part of your neck just above the sternum (the bone down the middle of the chest) and puts a tube into your chest. Your provider can look through this tube to see inside your chest. Your provider will take a biopsy of lymph nodes in the chest to check if the cancer has already spread. It also allows the pathologist to determine the stage of the cancer accurately. This will allow your healthcare providers to determine what kind of surgery you will need and if you need more treatment after you recover from surgery
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A series of detailed pictures that are taken after your healthcare provider injects a small amount of radioactive material into your blood. The scan shows areas where the radioactive material is being absorbed.


The treatment for lung cancer depends on the type and stage of the cancer. Treatment may include:

  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow for medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.
  • You may receive oxygen through a small tube placed under your nose or through a mask placed over your face.
  • You may need surgery to treat lung cancer. Surgery may include:
    • Thoracotomy: Surgery to open the chest, where the lungs are located. The surgeon may remove a part of or your whole lung. You can live with only one lung. He may also do one of the following:
      • Segmentectomy: Surgery to remove a wedge-shaped piece of the lung where cancer is found
      • Lobectomy: Surgery to remove a lobe of the lung where there is cancer. Lungs are made up of sections called lobes. There are 3 lobes in the right lung and 2 lobes in the left lung.
      • Pneumonectomy: Surgery to remove an entire lung where the cancer is found
    • Lymph node dissection: Surgery to remove lymph nodes in your chest to check if the cancer has spread. It also allows the pathologist to accurately determine the stage of the cancer. This will allow your healthcare providers to determine if you need more treatment after you recover from surgery.
    • Thoracentesis: A procedure which uses a needle to remove fluid that has built up in the chest outside the lung, so that you breathe more easily
  • Treatments may include:
    • Chemotherapy (anticancer drugs), which uses medicine to kill cancer cells.
    • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.
    • Biological or targeted therapy, which uses medicine designed to help your immune system fight the cancer or block the growth of cancer cells.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicine to:
    • Treat pain
    • Treat or prevent an infection
    • Treat or prevent anemia, which means you have too few red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to your body. Anemia may be caused by your cancer, your treatment, or other problems.
    • Treat or prevent side effects, such as nausea or constipation, from other treatments
    • Help your immune system fight cancer

What can I do to help?

  • You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:
    • Cough
    • Coughing up blood or mucus that is thick or blood-stained
    • Trouble breathing
    • Hoarseness
    • Chest pain
    • Redness, swelling, pain, warmth, or drainage from your surgical wound
    • Fever, chills, or muscle aches.
  • Ask questions about any medicine or treatment or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on many factors. The average amount of time to stay in the hospital with lung cancer is 5 to 7 days.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-02-03
Last reviewed: 2014-12-18
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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