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doctor explaining results of lung check up from x-ray scan chest on digital tablet screen to patient

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States.

Risks & Warning Signs

While people who smoke have the greatest risk of developing lung cancer, it can still occur in non-smokers who are otherwise healthy. Other factors can also increase your risk, including exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to radon gas, exposure to asbestos and other chemicals and certain lung diseases.

Unfortunately, most of the warning signs for lung cancer don’t occur until the disease has already advanced. Here are some possible symptoms to look for:

  • A new cough that doesn’t go anyway
  • Changes in a chronic cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Unexplained weight loss

How is Lung Cancer Detected?

A low dose CT lung scan (LDCT) is a screening recommended for certain current and former heavy smokers. The scan takes 3D pictures of a person’s lungs, detecting cancer in its early stages and therefore, significantly increasing a patient’s 5-year survival rate. The procedure is painless, takes less than 10 minutes and can be scheduled through your primary care provider. Those eligible for LDCT Lung Cancer Screening must meet these three requirements:

  • Age 50-77, with no signs or symptoms of lung cancer;
  • Currently a smoker or former smoker who quit within the last 15 years;
  • Are or were a heavy smoker, defined as having at least a 20-pack-year smoking history

Lung cancer may also be detected through a CAT scan or chest x-ray, either when a patient is experiencing symptoms, or when they’ve come in to get an x-ray for a different reason, and a spot on the lung is found.

If a spot is found on your lung, it’s not necessarily cancer. Your doctor will likely recommend that you have a biopsy to analyze the affected lung tissue. A biopsy can happen one of two ways—through a tube with a small camera that is placed down your throat and into your lungs, or with a needle biopsy through your chest wall. You will be sedated for both procedures.


If the biopsied lung tissue is malignant (cancerous), your doctor will then determine what kind of lung cancer you have and how aggressive it is. There are two main types of lung cancer:

Small cell lung cancer

Also known as oat cell cancer, small cell lung cancer is often fast growing and may spread to lymph nodes or other organs early in the disease process.

Non-small cell lung cancer

This is the more common type and is more variable in how quickly it grows or spreads to other organs.

The type of cancer you have, and how advanced it is (known as the “stage”), will help you and your doctor determine the best treatment plan. Our multidisciplinary Lung Cancer Center of Excellence team assist in reviewing each lung cancer case on a weekly basis, ensuring your treatment provides the most holistic, streamlined, expedited care possible. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, additional details regarding what you can expect from your patient journey can be found here.


Non-small cell lung cancer is often treated with surgery, which removes all or part of your lung. Other lung cancers may be best treated with some combination of surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.

Cancer treatment is available from ThedaCare at our clinics throughout northeast Wisconsin.

Support For You & Your Family

ThedaCare offers support groups, one-on-one or family counseling, and palliative care, along with other resources to help you cope with lung cancer. Our Behavioral Health professionals understand the special needs of patients who are processing life-threatening illness and the decisions associated with it, and are here to help patients and their families cope.