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About Thoracic Cancers

As a part of the Comprehensive Thoracic Oncology Program (CTOP) at Norris Cotton Cancer Center, D-H Thoracic Surgeons diagnose, stage and surgically treat tumors in the lungs, esophagus, trachea and mediastinum.

The following links have additional information on treatment options for thoracic cancers:

Lung Cancer

Signs and Symptoms: Lung cancer can present without symptoms, and often is detected on a screening CT scan or x-ray. Some people may have a chronic cough, begin to cough up blood (hemoptysis) or experience recurrent pneumonias.

There are two main types of lung cancer based on the kind of cells in which the cancer begins: non-small cell lung cancer, which is more common, and small cell lung cancer.

Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer develops in the epithelial cells that line the lungs. There are several types of non-small cell lung cancer, each which grows and spreads in different ways:

  • Adenocarcinoma forms in epithelial cells associated with glands, and begins in the cells that line the alveoli, the tiny air sacs where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma forms in cells that line the lungs, beginning in the bronchial tubes, which lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs.
  • Carcinoid tumors in the lungs are rare and slow-growing cancers. "Typical" carcinoid tumors rarely spread beyond the lungs. "Atypical carcinoids" are very rare and more likely to spread to other organs.

Small Cell Lung Cancer

Small cell lung cancer begins in neuroendocrine cells in lung tissue, and usually spreads to surrounding lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Esophageal Cancer

Signs and Symptoms: Most people experience pain and/or difficulty in swallowing as the initial sign of esophageal cancer.

The two most common forms of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.

  • Adenocarcinoma begins in glandular cells that line the esophagus, usually forming in the lower part of the esophagus near the stomach. Adenocarcinomas are the more common type of esophageal cancer, and are often seen in people with longstanding gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and Barrett's disease.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the cells that line the esophagus, most often in the upper and middle part of the esophagus.

Malignant Tracheal Disease

Signs and Symptoms: Nonspecific signs of malignant tracheal disease include cough, hemoptysis (coughing blood), and wheezing, and are difficult to distinguish from COPD and benign tracheal disease.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma is a fast-growing tumor that often breaks through the wall of the windpipe.
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) is a slow-growing tumor that usually stays within the windpipe but can eventually close it off completely.

Mediastinal Tumors

  • Thymomas form on the outside of the thymus, grow slowly and usually remain localized and thus treatable through surgery.
  • Thymic carcinomas are rare tumors of the thymus that are more likely to spread and recur.

Malignant Pleural Disease

  • Malignant mesothelioma is a rare disease in which cancer cells form in the pleura, the thin layer of tissue that lines the chest cavity, abdomen and outside of the lungs. This is often caused by asbestos exposure and smoking.
  • Metastatic pleural tumors are cancers that began in other organs in the body and have spread to the pleura.

Page reviewed on: Jun 26, 2015

Page reviewed by: Dr. David J. Finley

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