Primary lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women. More than 210,000 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed every year in the United States. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths and outnumbers the deaths from some of the next most common cancers added together. In general terms, lung cancer can be divided into two major groups: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). NSCLCs account for approximately 85 percent of the lung cancer cases and SCLCs account for approximately 15 percent of the lung cancer cases.
The nationally and internationally renowned thoracic surgeons at Yale work as part of a multidisciplinary team with Yale Thoracic Oncology surgeons and specialists, who are also nationally and internationally renowned for their specialized lung cancer care. Our practice encompasses all aspects of your total lung health including diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care. As faculty of the Yale School of Medicine Department of Surgery, our surgeons are continually redefining standards of care through their comprehensive skill, innovative procedures, ongoing research, and the application of evidence-based medicine.
Causes and Risks of Lung Cancer
The exact cause of lung cancer remains elusive, but there are risk factors that are strongly associated with the development of lung cancer. Some risk factors can be modified through lifestyle changes. Smoking is the most commonly recognized risk factor in the development of lung cancer. The cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens) within tobacco smoke are thought to cause changes at the genetic level that promote the development of lung cancer. Other factors, including environmental exposure to chemicals, such as radon or asbestos, and other lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or interstitial lung disease, are also thought to promote the development of lung cancer. Other factors, which cannot be modified, are also thought to play a role in the development of lung cancer. Such risk factors include a family history of lung cancer.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer can reveal itself with a variety of symptoms, though there is no “classic” symptom associated with lung cancer. Lung cancers also may be identified incidentally during a test such as a doctor’s examination or CT scan is performed for other reasons. Not all masses or nodules identified are lung cancers, but this determination should be made by experts, such as our surgeons, in conjunction with the other lung cancer experts in the Yale Thoracic Oncology Program.
Lung Cancer Staging
If a finding in the lung is thought to be a lung cancer, the surgeons will pursue a workup to evaluate for the spread of lung cancer. This process is also known as staging. Lung cancer staging is complex and encompasses many nuances. Sometimes this may include smaller procedures to obtain a biopsy and other times it may include proceeding directly to an operation. In general, there are four stages of lung cancer [staginglungcancer.org]. By determining the specific stage, our thoracic surgeons can develop an optimal treatment plan that may include surgery. The staging workup and treatment plan will be made by our surgeons in conjunction with other lung cancer experts in the Yale Thoracic Oncology Program.
We recognize that lung cancer can deeply impact your physical health, as well as your emotional health. An integral part of our approach is to provide our patients with leading-edge surgical and medical techniques and compassionate care that supports you physically and emotionally before, during, and after treatment. In addition, our patients benefit from the full range of supportive services [link to our page about smilow] available at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.
Secondary (due to metastasis)
Cancers elsewhere in the body can move or spread to the lungs. These types of cancers are not necessarily primarily lung cancers and may be considered metastatic or secondary tumors. Similar to primary lung cancers, there are a variety of symptoms that patients with this type of involvement can present with, including having no symptoms. Surgery can play a role in the treatment of these tumors, but this decision is made following a comprehensive evaluation by our thoracic surgeons and a review by our multidisciplinary tumor board.
Treatment of Lung Cancers
The thoracic surgeons at Yale offer the widest range of operations to treat lung cancers at various stages. These operations range from the minimally invasive approaches to the classic open lung resections. In addition to being well versed with the traditional or classic techniques and operations, many additional procedures offered by our innovative surgeons are at the leading edge of thoracic surgery. Our thoracic surgeons are committed to determine the best option for each and every patient.
Our surgeons are highly skilled at performing even the most advanced surgical techniques for both common and complex conditions. At Yale Thoracic Surgery, we know that the surgical process can feel intimidating. We will walk you through the process, step by step, so that you understand the procedure and feel comfortable with your treatment options.