Diseases & Conditions
Boston Medical Center (BMC) specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. Our Center for Thoracic Oncology provides comprehensive, expert care for patients with lung cancer. We combine a highly skilled, multidisciplinary team and state-of-the-art facilities to offer a comprehensive range of treatments, including open surgery and laser-assisted therapy. We are one of only two institutions in Boston that can offer CyberKnife radiosurgery.
As proud as we are of our medical techniques and equipment, however, it is our patient-centered care approach we are most proud of. Our mission is to provide each patient with exceptional care, without exception. Every member of our team knows that a cancer diagnosis is a serious matter that has profound effects on you and your family, which is why we take special care to fully discuss your condition, your treatment options, and prognosis fully, honestly and with the respect and compassion you and your family deserve.
What is Lung Cancer?
Your lungs are the organs responsible for delivering oxygen from the air you breathe to your blood and eliminating carbon dioxide. You have two lungs, which are divided into lobes. Your right lung has three lobes: upper, middle and lower. Because the heart is located on the left side of your body, your left lung has only two lobes—upper and lower—to accommodate your heart.
Normal, healthy cells grow and divide to form new cells as your body needs them. They die when they grow old or become damaged, and they are replaced with new cells. Sometimes, new cells form when your body does not need them, and old or damaged cells do not die when they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth, or tumor. Tumor cells can be malignant (meaning cancerous) or benign (meaning non-cancerous).
Lung cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the lungs. About 180,000 cases of lung cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States. There are different types of lung cancers based on the types of cells from which the cancer begins. Your physician determines the type of cancer by examining the cells under a microscope.
The two main types of lung cancer are:
- Small cell
- Non-small cell
There are several types of non-small cell lung cancers, including:
- Squamous cell carcinoma, also called epidermoid carcinoma, is a form of cancer that begins in squamous cells, which are in the lining of the lungs.
- Adenocarcinoma begins in cells that have glandular properties.
- Bronchoalveolar carcinoma, a form of adenocarcinoma, may be spread more throughout the lungs than other cancers, and is more common in women and people who do not smoke than other forms of lung cancer.
- Large cell carcinoma is a type of lung cancer in which the cancer cells are large and look abnormal.
In its earliest stages, you may not experience symptoms from lung cancer. As the condition advances, however, you may develop symptoms that include:
- A new cough that does not go away
- Changes in a chronic cough
- Coughing up blood (even a small amount)
- Shortness of breath
Smoking causes the majority of lung cancer cases by damaging the cells that line your lungs. There are a number of factors that increase your risk for lung cancer, including:
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Exposure to radon gas
- Exposure to asbestos and other chemicals
- Family history
- Excessive alcohol use
- A combination of the above
Lung cancer can also occur in nonsmokers and people who have never had prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke.
Your multidisciplinary medical team at BMC will work with you and your primary care physician to diagnose lung cancer and determine its severity.
In collaboration with other specialists, your BMC physician will likely order a number of diagnostic tests and review the results at a weekly multidisciplinary Thoracic Tumor Board meeting. This interdepartmental review process guides our recommendations for treatment. In consultation with you and your primary care physician, we plan the best course of treatment for you based on the type and extent of your cancer, and your overall health.
If you have a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of lung cancer, your physicians will use a variety of diagnostic procedures to stage the disease and determine its severity and spread. Your doctor may request several tests and diagnostic procedures.
How is Lung Cancer Treated?
At BMC, specialists from thoracic surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology and other medical disciplines combine their expertise to provide you with an integrated, individualized treatment plan. Your plan may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. You may be offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials if an investigational lung cancer therapy is appropriate for you.
With their depth and range of expertise, our specialists apply a wide array of state-of-the-art techniques to cure patients by removing and killing cancerous tissue. Our surgeons also use the most advanced techniques to relieve the symptoms of patients with advanced disease so they may improve their quality of life.
Learn more about the treatments available for lung cancer.
Cancer Clinical Trials
Promising new techniques in the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with cancer are tested in research studies called clinical trials. Patients who may benefit from a new practice or drug may be invited by their doctor to take part in appropriate clinical trials.
BMC thoracic surgeons lead or take part in a number of national studies advancing new treatments for patients with all stages of lung cancer. These trials include minimally invasive surgical techniques for stage l lung cancer; novel use of radioactive seeds and radiofrequency ablation to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence in high-risk cases; and a stage III study that combines high-dosage radiation with chemotherapy.