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Lung Cancer Health Center

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Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)


Refer to the PDQ summaries on Lung Cancer Prevention and Smoking in Cancer Care for more information.


In patients considered at high risk for developing lung cancer, the only screening modality for early detection that has been shown to alter mortality is low-dose helical CT scanning.[12] Studies of lung cancer screening with chest radiography and sputum cytology have failed to demonstrate that screening lowers lung cancer mortality rates.

(Refer to the Screening by low-dose helical computed tomography subsection in the PDQ summary on Lung Cancer Screening for more information.)

Clinical Features

Lung cancer may present with symptoms or be found incidentally on chest imaging. Symptoms and signs may result from the location of the primary local invasion or compression of adjacent thoracic structures, distant metastases, or paraneoplastic phenomena. The most common symptoms at presentation are worsening cough or chest pain. Other presenting symptoms include the following:

Symptoms may result from local invasion or compression of adjacent thoracic structures such as compression involving the esophagus causing dysphagia, compression involving the laryngeal nerves causing hoarseness, or compression involving the superior vena cava causing facial edema and distension of the superficial veins of the head and neck. Symptoms from distant metastases may also be present and include neurological defect or personality change from brain metastases or pain from bone metastases. Infrequently, patients may present with symptoms and signs of paraneoplastic diseases such as hypertrophic osteoarthropathy with digital clubbing or hypercalcemia from parathyroid hormone-related protein. Physical examination may identify enlarged supraclavicular lymphadenopathy, pleural effusion or lobar collapse, unresolved pneumonia, or signs of associated disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or pulmonary fibrosis.


Treatment options for patients are determined by histology, stage, and general health and comorbidities of the patient. Investigations of patients with suspected NSCLC focus on confirming the diagnosis and determining the extent of the disease.

The procedures used to determine the presence of cancer include the following:

  • History.
  • Physical examination.
  • Routine laboratory evaluations.
  • Chest x-ray.
  • Chest CT scan with infusion of contrast material.
  • Biopsy.
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