Lung cancer develops when genetic mutations (changes) occur in a normal cell within the lung. As a result, the cell reproduces endlessly and becomes a cancer. The mutations that cause cancer are produced by complex interactions between environmental factors and inherited factors.
Although lung cancer accounts for only 15% of all newly-diagnosed cancers in the United States, it is the leading cause of cancer death in U.S. men and women. It is more deadly than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. About 160,000 patients die from lung cancer each year. Death rates have been declining in men over the past decade, and they have about stabilized in women.
Smoking is the primary risk factor in 85 - 90% of lung cancers. The risk of lung cancer in smokers is about 20 times that of nonsmokers. The risk depends on the duration of the addiction and the number of pack years. (One pack year equals the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day, multiplied by the number of years that the person has smoked.) Genetic damage in the lung occurs in nearly all chronic smokers, even if cancer has not developed.
People who smoked can be at increased risk for lung cancer more than 20 years after quitting, although the risk drops significantly even in the first year after quitting. There are benefits to quitting smoking, even for people who are well into middle age. Evidence suggests that quitting smoking, after a diagnosis of early stage lung cancer, improves outcomes significantly.
Other factors include:
- family history of lung cancer
- personal history of cancer
- being over the age of 65
- exposure to radon, secondhand smoke, asbestos
If you have symptoms, see your doctor. If you don't have a physician, we can help you find a primary care physician near your home or where you work. You can even request an appointment online or call 1-800-ALEGENT (1-800-253-4368).
- dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
- chronic coughing or change in regular coughing pattern
- chest pain or pain in the abdomen
- cachexia (weight loss), fatigue, and loss of appetite
- dysphonia (hoarse voice)
- clubbing of the fingernails (uncommon)
- dysphagia (difficulty swallowing).
Screening & Diagnosis
A detailed physical examination of the whole body is very important to identify or rule out the spread of cancer to other areas, and to determine the patient's general condition. For example, questions about dizziness or headaches can help the doctor determine if the cancer has spread to the brain. Bone or joint pain might suggest that the cancer has spread to the bone. The doctor will also look for head and neck symptoms that might indicate other tumors. Also, the patient's weight loss and ability to function are two very important factors for predicting survival following treatment. Patients who are mobile and have lost less than 10% of their pre-treatment weight tend to have better survival rates.
If you don't have a physician, we can help you find a primary care physician near your home or where you work. You can even request an appointment online or call 1-800-ALEGENT (1-800-253-4368).
In a small percentage of cases, a routine chest x-ray reveals the first signs of lung cancer. Usually, however, symptoms of existing lung cancer, such as coughing, chest pain, and blood in the sputum, will lead to a chest x-ray. If non-small cell lung cancer is present, chest x-rays may show lesions (damaged or abnormal tissue) in the center of the lung, cavities formed by squamous cell carcinoma, or a lace-like pattern of cells spreading through the lungs. By the time lung cancer is diagnosed by chest x-rays, however, it has often spread so far that it cannot be surgically cured. Four major studies found no survival benefits in early detection from chest x-rays and sputum screening. Regular screening for lung cancer using x-rays is therefore not recommended.
Computed tomography (CT), particularly the specific technique called low-dose spiral (or helical) CT, is more effective than x-rays for detecting cancer in patients with suspected lung cancer. It is the standard imaging procedure for determining if and where the cancer has spread (metastasized). Surgeons also use CT scans to evaluate patients before lung surgery.
The National Cancer Institute released initial results from a large-scale test of screening methods to reduce deaths from lung cancer by detecting cancers at relatively early stages. The overwhelming results indicated that patients were best benefited by using low-dose helical computed tomography (CT). The study found 20 percent fewer lung cancer deaths among trial participants screened with low-dose CT over the standard two view chest x-ray. Low dose CT protocols are available at all Alegent Creighton Health Metro Hospitals.
As with all cancers, earlier detection allows for better patient outcomes.
Who should receive a screening CT?
Any patient over the age of 55 who has smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years.
Should the patient be wary of the radiation dose from the CT?
The study and the National Cancer Institute believe that the risk from smoking outweighs the risk of cancer to the risk from the low-dose CT scan.
What is the cost of the screening CT scan?
The patient will pay $300 for this screening procedure, which includes the professional reading fees. We will require an order from the referring physician as we recognize that physician involvement is extremely important. Patients may submit their bill to insurance but at this time many insurance companies do not recognize this screening procedure.
What if there is a suspicious finding?
The patient’s referring physician will receive a report with the findings and future tests and treatments will be determined by the physician and patient.
Can this test be performed at any Alegent Creighton Health Hospital?
Yes, all Metro Alegent Creighton Health hospitals are performing low dose CT scans of the chest.
How can the screening lung CT be scheduled?
Physician offices can call the Alegent Creighton MAC line at 402-717-2222.
The Lung Cancer Program at Alegent Creighton Health has a team of specialists to assist those patients who have, or are suspected of having lung cancer.
Patients and family can consult with physician specialists in medical oncology, thoracic surgery, radiation oncology, and pulmonary medicine. At our multidisciplinary lung cancer conference, these specialists confer with pathologists and radiologists who are dedicated to developing the best possible individualized plan for you or your family member. A support team of oncology nurses, social workers, dietitians, mental health specialists, and staff members helps patients and their loved ones maintain health of mind, body and spirit during diagnosis, treatment and survivorship.
Cancer Medical Team
Your cancer medical team consists of a multi-disciplinary team of highly skilled professionals who care for every patient of the Alegent Creighton Health Cancer Center. Using state-of-the-art technology and treatment regimens, our doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals treat more cancer patients than any other health care provider in the Nebraska.
Technologies & Therapies
Alegent Creighton Health is the first in the Omaha area to offer the TomoTherapy® Hi·Art® (Highly Integrated Adaptive Radiotherapy) System. This all-in-one solution allows doctors to check the location of tumors before each treatment, then deliver painless, precise radiation therapy resulting in unmatched accuracy for cancer patients, especially those with breast, lung and prostate tumors.
- Varian Trilogy
The Varian Trilogy with RapidArc® radiotherapy technology is a revolutionary breakthrough in cancer treatment that delivers powerful tumor-destroying radiation with remarkable precision.
- Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy
Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy is used to treat very early stages of lung cancer. It uses radiation aimed at the lung tumor from many different angles, given in one (or a few) large doses
Cancer Clinical Trials
We believe our patients should have access to the most advanced medicines or treatments available. Studies are available for cancer control, cancer prevention and cancer treatment. No patient is obligated to participate in cancer clinical trials and may withdraw at any time. However, those who do participate gain access to new medicines and other benefits, such as low or no-cost drugs and treatments.
Image Recovery Center
While cancer treatment outcomes are improving, hair loss, weight changes and skin changes leave you feeling like a shadow of your former self. At Alegent Creighton Health, we won’t let you face those challenges alone. The Image Recovery Center is an appearance-enhancement program designed to help you copy with some of the physical side effects of cancer treatment.
Cancer Nurse Navigator Program
A Cancer Nurse Navigator is an oncology-certified nurse who is available to guide you and your family through the entire process of diagnosis and treatment at Alegent Creighton Health. The Cancer Nurse Navigator is a single point of contact who will be there with you every step of the way.
Cancer Support Services
The Alegent Creighton Health Cancer Support Team is comprised of a group of healthcare professionals who work together in a variety of ways to help the patient and family cope with cancer. Individual team members include Cancer Support Services Specialists, Medical Social Workers, Cancer Rehabilitation Specialist, Pastoral Services, Dietitians, Oncology Nurse Navigators, Hospice & Home Care Services, Inpatient Nursing Services, Radiation Oncology, and Volunteer Services.
The purpose of integrative movement therapy is to "complement" conventional medicine by stimulating the body’s natural healing power. Healing the body, mind and spirit, Alegent Creighton Health offers massage therapy, Yoga, T’ai Chi meditation and other therapeutic exercises during cancer treatment.
Second Opinion Program
After you receive a cancer diagnosis, you will likely have many questions. It’s helpful to obtain as much information as possible to make informed decisions about your cancer management and treatment in order to feel confident about your care. Getting a second opinion from the Alegent Creighton Health Cancer Center can help with these concerns.
Cancer Inpatient Services
For more acute, palliative or end of life phases of cancer care, Alegent Creighton Health offers five locations throughout Omaha for inpatient cancer care services.
- Physical Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Speech Therapy
- Aquatic Therapy
- Stress Management
- Lymphedeman Prevention and Treatment
Cancer Support Groups
Learn more about our cancer support groups.
- Cancer Related Fatigue Support Group
- Cancer Survivorship Program
- Just for Kids - Cancer Support Group
- Look Good, Feel Better
- Lunch & Learn Cancer Support Group
- Surviving Bereavement
Image Recovery Center
While cancer treatment outcomes are improving, hair loss, weight changes and skin changes leave you feeling like a shadow of your former self. At Alegent Creighton Health, we won’t let you face those challenges alone. The Image Recovery Center
is an appearance-enhancement program designed to help you copy with some of the physical side effects of cancer treatment.