Request an Appointment



Contact us with Questions

Live Chat Hours: 9:00a.m.-3:00p.m., M-F EST

Expand Content

Diseases & Conditions

Lung Cancer - Heart & Vascular Institute Overview

Lung cancer fundamentals

In lung cancer, uncontrolled and abnormal cell growth invades and destroys normal lung tissue. An accumulation of these abnormal cells is called a tumor. As a tumor increases in size, it impairs lung function, resulting in breathing difficulty and decreased oxygen in the blood. Some cancer cells may also break away from the original tumor, travel the bloodstream and cause new tumor growth in other parts of the body, a process called metastasis. Ninety percent of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarette, pipe or cigar smoking.

There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell. Both types have several subtypes, the names of which refer to the general shape and appearance of the cancer cells when viewed through a microscope. The cells of each type grow and spread in different ways and are treated differently.

Common lung cancer symptoms include:

  • persistent cough
  • chest pain
  • coughing up blood
  • shortness of breath.

Management of lung cancer at The Cleveland Clinic

At The Cleveland Clinic, management of the patient with lung cancer involves collaboration among pulmonologists (lung specialists), pathologists specialists (tissue diagnostic specialists), medical and radiation oncologists (cancer treatment specialists), thoracic (chest) surgeons, and pain management experts.

Assessment and diagnosis.

Pulmonologists play a key role in the management of patients with lung cancer. They also work closely with pathologists, oncologists and thoracic surgeons. In addition to performing some of the procedures required for accurate diagnosis and staging (determining how far the cancer has progressed), pulmonologists also perform the crucial task of patient assessment prior to treatment with medication, radiation therapy or surgery. Key information about patient status and lung function is used to tailor the most appropriate and most aggressive therapy—one that slows or stops the cancer but that also improves a patient’s quality of life. For instance, in patients in whom surgery is an option, the pulmonologist will perform tests that help determine the maximum amount of lung tissue that can be removed without jeopardizing a patient’s quality of life.

Special screening.

Patients evaluated at The Cleveland Clinic for lung cancer have access to a screening procedure known as low-dose spiral CT scanning. This imaging technology has shown promise for identifying potentially malignant (cancerous) tissue much earlier in its development than an X-ray can provide. An “earlier” diagnosis may improve the chances of successfully managing or curing the cancer. The Clinic is one of a few major medical centers that offer low-dose spiral CT.


The primary goal of cancer treatment is to rid the body of the cancerous cells and to prevent regrowth of new cancer cells. In lung cancer, this goal includes preserving normal lung tissue and preventing further spread of the cancer to other nearby organs, the bones or the brain. Surgery, radiation therapy (or radiotherapy) and chemotherapy are used to treat lung cancer. Surgery involves removal of cancerous tissue or tumors, whereas radiation therapy involves destruction of the cancer cells. (Unlike most large medical centers in the U.S., The Cleveland Clinic also offers lung cancer patients interventional bronchoscopy, which broadens the number of surgical treatment options for lung cancer patients.) Surgery and radiation therapy are “targeted” approaches, in that therapy is aimed directly at specific cells or tumors. In chemotherapy, a patient takes oral or intravenous drugs that use the bloodstream to travel to, and target for attack, rapidly dividing, or multiplying cancer cells throughout the body. (To learn more about chemotherapy, visit the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center.) Treatment of lung cancer can involve one or all of these interventions. A team of Cleveland Clinic cancer, pulmonary (lung), radiation therapy, and surgery experts will help educate you about the treatment choices and help develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs and lifestyle.

Special programs for lung cancer patients

Pulmonary rehabilitation.

Chronic diseases and disorders of the lungs and airways, as well as some of the invasive treatments for them, can take their toll on health and quality of life. Pulmonary rehabilitation programs use an array of tactics—from education to encouraging life-style changes—to help reduce the incidence of sickness, disability and death from chronic pulmonary diseases. They also encourage patients to pro-actively manage their conditions and remain independent. The Clinic’s comprehensive pulmonary rehabilitation program is key to achieving these objectives.

Pain management.

Pain is a significant issue for people undergoing cancer treatment. Various cancer interventions, as well as the cancer itself, can cause pain. Effective pain management can help maintain or improve quality of life and even help reduce the risk of depression associated with pain.

Smoking cessation.

Smoking is a major cause of lung cancer; but quitting can be a challenging proposition for some chronic smokers. And because smoking patterns vary from person to person, there is no “best” method for quitting. The most successful smoking cessation programs offer smokers a range of strategies. The Cleveland Clinic’s smoking cessation programs uses various strategies to help patients modify smoking habits.

Cleveland Clinic pulmonologists who specialize in assessment or management of lung cancer:

Cleveland Clinic oncologists who specialize in chemotherapy for lung cancer:

Cleveland Clinic radiation oncologists who specialize in radiation therapy for lung cancer:

Cleveland Clinic thoracic surgeons who specialize in surgery for lung cancer:

Cleveland Clinic physicians who specialize in managing and treating pain related to lung cancer:

Cleveland Clinic clinicians who specialize in smoking cessation:

Make an appointment

If you want to learn more about Cleveland Clinic lung cancer treatment options or make an appointment with a Cleveland Clinic lung cancer specialist, call The Cleveland Clinic Department of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at 216.444.6503 or toll free at 800.223.2273, ext. 46503, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).

Lung cancer questions/guidance

If you have questions about lung cancer or need guidance about what to do next, call the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Answer Line at 216.444.7923 or toll-free at 800.862.7798, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).

For more Cleveland Clinic information on lung cancer:

Other resources

This information is provided by The Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.