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Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the lungs. Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing ...



Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably, a mass of tissue forms. This is called a growth or tumor.The term cancer refers to malignant tumors. They can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.

Lung cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the lungs. There are two types of lung cancers:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer—generally grows and spreads more slowly (more common form)
  • Small cell lung cancer—generally grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other parts of the body

Lung Cancer

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The following can cause damage to the cells in the lungs, leading to lung cancer:

  • First- or second-hand smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes
  • Exposure to asbestos (a type of mineral) or radon (radioactive gas)


These factors increase your chance of developing lung cancer:

  • Smoking
  • Using chewing tobacco
  • Being exposed to second-hand smoke
  • Being exposed to asbestos or radon
  • Having a lung disease, such as tuberculosis
  • Having a family or personal history of lung cancer
  • Being exposed to certain air pollutants
  • Being exposed to coal dust
  • Radiation therapy that was used to treat other cancers
  • HIV infection


Symptoms may include:

  • A cough that doesn't go away and worsens over time
  • Constant chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
  • Repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Fatigue


The only way to make a definitive diagnosis of lung cancer is to obtain a tissue sample. This can be done by several different methods and depends on the location of the nodule/cancer and the chance that it is a lung cancer. There are several non-invasive steps we take before this to help make the right plan for you.

The chest X-ray is the most common first diagnostic step when any new symptoms of lung cancer are present. Chest X-rays may reveal suspicious areas in the lungs but are unable to determine if these areas are cancer –so X-rays, by themselves, cannot provide a lung cancer diagnosis. In particular, calcified nodules in the lungs or benign (non-cancerous) tumors may be identified on a chest X-ray and mimic lung cancer.

CT (computerized axial tomography scan, or CAT scan) scans need to be performed of the chest and abdomen to examine the lung and other important sites in the body. A CT scan of the chest provides much more detailed information than a chest X-ray. The images are taken by a large donut-shaped machine at different angles around the body. One advantage of CT scans is that they are more sensitive than standard chest X-rays in the detection of lung nodules. Intravenous contrast material is frequently given prior to the procedure to help improve the images.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning is a specialized imaging technique that measures metabolic activity and functioning of tissue. This test is extremely helpful in determining if a lung nodule is likely to be a cancer and if a lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body. If it has not already been done by your doctor, it can usually be done the same day as your appointment. At UVA, we were one of the first programs to have a combined PET-CT scanner, so our radiologists have significant experience with this technology.



Surgery offers the best chance of cure for lung cancer and is the standard lung cancer treatment for patients with early stage (or limited) disease.

We evaluate each patient to determine whether or not surgery is appropriate for them. Occasionally, patients will have radiation and/or chemotherapy first and then surgery will be considered.

When formal surgical resection is not feasible, alternatives for the high-risk patient include performance of a limited resection (removing less lung tissue) or the use of stereotactic radiosurgery, which is performed by UVA's radiation oncologists.

VATS Lobectomy

At UVA, our thoracic surgeons perform minimally invasive VATS lobectomy removal of lung cancers whenever possible. For patients with early-stage small cell lung cancer, we are able to do this in over 95% of cases. We have one of the largest experiences with VATS surgery in the country. If this is your diagnosis, we can determine if this lung cancer treatment is appropriate for you.



To reduce your risk of getting lung cancer:

  • Do not start smoking. If you smoke, quit.
  • Avoid places where people are smoking.
  • Test your home for radon gases and asbestos. Have these substances removed if they are in the home.
  • Do not work in a place with asbestos.

The American Lung Association and American Cancer Society both suggest that screening for lung cancer with a type of CT scan may be considered if you are a smoker (or former smoker), aged 55-74 years, and have a history of heavy smoking (such as one pack a day for 30 years).

CT Screening For Lung Cancer

UVA is now offering a new screening tool for lung cancer.

Learn more.

Care for Your Child

If your child has to see a cancer specialist, it's important that they visit a doctor who understands the needs of kids. 

At UVA, our doctors are experts in the special kind of care children need. 

Learn more.

You Should Know

In-Depth Cancer News

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