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Cancer Care Center

Diseases and Conditions

Lung Cancer

Introduction to Lung Cancer Patient Care at BMC
What Is Lung Cancer?
What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?
What Are the Causes of Lung Cancer?
How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?
How Is Lung Cancer Treated?
Our Team
Cancer Clinical Trials
Cancer Support Services
Patient Navigators, Social Workers and Nutritionists 


At Boston Medical Center (BMC), the care of patients with lung cancer is a collaborative, multidisciplinary process. Organizing our services around each patient, we bring together the expertise of diverse specialists to manage your care from your first consultation through treatment and follow-up visits.

In our highly supportive and collaborative environment, experts in lung cancer and related lung diseases provide you with the most advanced, coordinated and comprehensive medical care available anywhere—treatment that is effective and innovative in curing and controlling cancer and managing its impact on your quality of life.

At BMC, diagnosis and treatment of patients with lung cancer combines the resources of a multidisciplinary clinical center dedicated to personal, patient-focused care with the state-of-the-art expertise and technological advances of a major teaching hospital. As the primary teaching affiliate of the Boston University School of Medicine, BMC is at the forefront of clinical practice, surgical expertise and research in lung cancer.

Lung cancer is highly treatable and often curable, even when a patient has severely damaged lungs and advanced disease. In our culture of innovation, collaboration and compassionate care, you will receive treatment from physicians who are nationally recognized leaders in the care of patients with all stages of lung cancer.

Our doctors 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.

Refer a patient with a single telephone call or email to our Cancer Referral Hotline. Patients with a diagnosis or strong suspicion of cancer are given priority appointments within 72 hours. Call 617.638.5600 for a clinical consult or email CTO.Center@BMC.org.

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What Is Lung Cancer?

Normal cells, the body's basic unit of life, 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 may multiply in an uncontrolled way and grow into a tumor.   

Lung cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs. As these unhealthy cells form lumps or swellings (tumors), they block the ability of the lungs to provide oxygen throughout the body via the bloodstream. They may remain localized, or they may spread (metastasize) and invade other organs.

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, a tumor that starts in the cells lining the glands
  • Bronchoalveolar carcinoma, a form of adenocarcinoma that affects more women and nonsmokers than other types of lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer associated with exposure to asbestos and smoking

Resources for more information:

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What Are the 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
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Pain

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What Are the Causes of Lung Cancer?

People who smoke have the greatest risk of lung cancer. The risk rises with the frequency and duration of an individual’s exposure to tobacco—whether through smoking or by secondhand contact. However, people who stop smoking, even after many years, can significantly reduce their chances of developing lung cancer.

Tobacco smoke causes the majority of lung cancer cases by damaging 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. 

Other factors that increase lung cancer risk include

  • Inhaling secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to radon gas
  • Breathing in asbestos and other chemicals
  • 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.

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How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

From your first visit to BMC, you will receive highly coordinated, multidisciplinary care that is managed by a BMC thoracic surgeon, a doctor who specializes in treating conditions of the lungs, chest wall and diaphragm.

Your BMC care team will work together to determine your diagnosis. 

In collaboration with other specialists, your BMC physician will likely order a number of diagnostic tests and review the results at our 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 will 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 to determine its severity and spread. Your doctor may request several tests and diagnostic procedures. Learn more about the tests and diagnostic procedures for lung cancer.

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How Is Lung Cancer Treated?

At BMC, specialists from medical oncology, radiation oncology, thoracic and cardiothoracic surgery, pulmonology, 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.

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Our Team

BMC’s comprehensive lung cancer program has earned an international reputation with physicians who are distinguished as national leaders, researchers and experts in the care of patients at all stages of the disease. Our patient-centered, multidisciplinary approach assures each patient benefits from the collaborative expertise of physicians uniquely focused on their individual needs.

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Cancer Clinical Trials

Cancer researchers are dedicated to understanding the causes of cancer and improving treatment options. Promising new techniques in the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with cancer are tested in research studies called clinical trials. A research nurse will screen all willing patients to determine if they are eligible to participate in a study. For more information on clinical trials, ask your physician or nurse. 

BMC thoracic surgeons lead or take part in a number of national studies advancing new treatment options for patients with all stages of lung cancer. The number and types of clinical trials available for lung cancer patients are constantly changing. View an up-to-date list of ongoing trials here. If you are interested in participating in any clinical trials at BMC, please talk with your physician.

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Cancer Support Services

A diagnosis of cancer can be a life-altering experience. BMC's Cancer Support Services Program provides a comprehensive set of services to help patients focus their energy on combating and coping with their disease. Designed to improve long-term outcomes and survivorship, these services address a range of medical, social, economic and emotional needs.

At BMC, we understand that cancer affects patients and families in many ways. We are here to support you during all aspects of care—from diagnosis through treatment and recovery. We offer a comprehensive array of support groups, workshops, lectures and activities designed with you in mind.

To learn more about the various services we offer our cancer patients, including our monthly Lung Cancer Support Group, and to view our most recent quarterly newsletter and event calendar, please visit Cancer Support Services. For additional information or any questions you may have, call 617.638.7540 or email cancersupport@bmc.org.

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Additional Support

Patient Navigators

Patients have the option of working with a patient navigator who may be able to provide support services related to their care.  Patient navigators may be useful in providing assistance for the following services:

  • Appointment Reminders:  The time dedicated to treating lung cancer varies from patient to patient, but many patients visit the hospital multiple times throughout their treatment. If needed, patient navigators are available to remind patients of their appointments.
  • Transportation:  Patients come to BMC from a variety of cities and neighborhoods. Thus, transportation options are different for everyone. Patient navigators are dedicated to helping patients find the best way to get to BMC while taking into account travel time and financial considerations. In addition, patient navigators may be able to recommend resources to help cover costs associated with travel.
  • Health Insurance:  Health insurance plans are very complex. Whether you have health insurance or not, patient navigators are available to help.
  • Community Resources:  There is a variety of community resources available to ease the burden of cancer. Patient navigators are able to connect patients to these services and assist with applications and paperwork.

Social Workers

Social workers are available to provide additional support services to patients and families and to help with emotional, psychological and social service needs. They are available on inpatient and outpatient units. Social workers can meet with you before or after your doctor’s appointment. You can discuss these options with your physician or ask for a referral.


If you have concerns about your diet and nutrition during the course of your cancer treatment, you can meet with one of our nutritionists to discuss your dietary concerns. Nutritionists are also available to meet with you before or after your other appointments. Please talk with your physician or social worker if you are interested in seeing a nutritionist.