At Boston Medical Center (BMC), the care of patients with lung cancer is a collaborative, multidisciplinary process. In a highly supportive and patient-focused environment, the Cancer Care Center organizes its services around each patient, bringing together the expertise of diverse specialists to manage care from the first consultation through treatment and follow-up visits.
The Cancer Care Center is dedicated to providing treatment that is effective and innovative in curing and controlling cancer, while managing its impact on quality of life. The Center's physicians are pioneering advances in effective, minimally invasive techniques that lower patients' risk, pain, and recovery time, and enable even very ill patients to improve their quality of life.
Benedict Daly, MD, Professor Emeritus, as he discusses our state-of-the-art lung cancer program, a national model of treatment and care.
Refer a patient with a single telephone call or email to our Cancer Referral Hotline. Call 617.638.5600 for a clinical consult or email [email protected]. Patients with a diagnosis or strong suspicion of cancer are given priority appointments within 72 hours.
What Is Lung Cancer?
Normal cells divide in a regulated way to form new cells, and after performing their functions for a while, they die. Cancer cells do not always die. Instead, these abnormal cells change their makeup and begin to multiply in an uncontrolled way. The cells join together and form a tumor.
Lung cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs. As these unhealthy cells form tumors, they block the ability of the lungs to provide oxygen to the body via the bloodstream. Cancer cells may remain localized, or they may metastasize (spread) and invade other parts of the body.
Lung cancers take a variety of forms, including
- Squamous cell carcinoma (also called epidermoid carcinoma), which begins in the tissues that line the lungs and is most common in smokers
- Adenocarcinoma, which is a tumor that starts in the cells lining the glands
- Bronchoalveolar carcinoma, which is a form of adenocarcinoma that affects more women and nonsmokers than other types of lung cancer
- Mesothelioma, which is a rare lung cancer associated with exposure to asbestos and smoking
Resources for more information:
- The National Cancer Institute's booklet, What You Need To Know About ™ Lung Cancer
- LungCancer.org's "Lung Cancer 101"
Symptoms of Lung Cancer
In the earliest stages of lung cancer, a patient may not experience symptoms. However, as the condition advances, a patient may notice
- A new cough that does not go away
- Changes in a chronic cough
- Coughing up blood (even a small amount)
- Shortness of breath
Patients with concerns about any of the signs and symptoms listed above are urged to consult their physician immediately.
Causes of Lung Cancer
People who smoke have the greatest risk of lung cancer. The risk increases with the frequency and duration of an individual's exposure to tobacco—whether through smoking or by secondhand contact. Tobacco smoke damages the cells that line the lungs. Cigarette smoke contains cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) that alter lung tissue. The damage worsens with repeated exposure. Over time, the injured cells become abnormal, multiply, and form tumors.
People who quit smoking—even those who have smoked for many years—can significantly reduce their chances of developing lung cancer.
Other factors that increase lung cancer risk include:
- Inhaling secondhand smoke
- Exposure to radon gas
- Breathing in asbestos and other chemicals
- A family history of lung cancer
- A history of certain other lung diseases
- Excessive alcohol use
- A combination of the above
Lung cancer can also afflict nonsmokers and people who have never had prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke.