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Lung cancer

Lung cancer treatment in Minnesota and western Wisconsin

Finding out you have lung cancer can bring about many emotions. We’re here to help you get answers and guide you through your lung cancer treatment options.

At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, we take a team-based approach to cancer treatment so we can provide you with comprehensive care for the physical, mental and emotional impacts of cancer. Our team of board-certified oncologists, pulmonologists, surgeons and other specialists use the latest lung cancer treatment options, research and integrative therapies to create a targeted lung cancer treatment plan personalized to you.

With state-of-the-art cancer centers, leading lung cancer doctors and access to clinical trials, expert care is always available for you and your family.

To make an appointment, please choose a location and call to schedule.

Types of lung cancer

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that starts in your lungs. When cells grow out of control, they can form tumors that make it hard for your lungs to function properly.

There are many different kinds of lung cancer, but most can be divided into two main types:

Non-small cell lung cancer

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer. Around 85% of lung cancer diagnoses are NSCLC, caused by larger cells that form tumors in the lungs. There are many different types of NSCLC, but the most common are: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma.

Small cell lung cancer

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is less common than NSCLC, making up around 15 percent of lung cancer diagnoses. This cancer is made up of much smaller cells, and it spreads more rapidly than NSCLC. This type of lung cancer is commonly linked to smoking.

Lung cancer symptoms

Symptoms of lung cancer can be similar to symptoms of other lung conditions. For that reason, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our primary care doctors first. Any time you have new or unusual symptoms that you are concerned about or are getting worse, you should call your doctor’s office to decide on next steps. They diagnose hundreds of conditions and can help get you answers. If your care requires additional expertise, we’ll connect you directly with one of our specialized lung cancer doctors.

Here are common symptoms of lung cancer:

  • Chest pain
  • Chronic bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained cough that doesn’t go away or worsens
  • Unexplained weight loss

Causes of lung cancer

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. The risk of getting lung cancer increases with every cigarette you smoke, which is why long-term smokers have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do to decrease your risk of developing lung cancer and improving your overall lung health.

While cigarette smoking is the biggest lung cancer risk factor, other types of tobacco use can also increase your chances of receiving a lung cancer diagnosis, including pipe and cigar smoking.

Causes of lung cancer in non-smokers

It is possible for non-smokers to develop lung cancer. In fact, 10 to 20 percent of people who receive a lung cancer diagnosis have never smoked, or have smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime. The top lung cancer risk factors for non-smokers include:

  • Family history of lung cancer
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Contact with asbestos, radon or other hazardous chemicals
  • Living in areas with a lot of air pollution

Some of these lung cancer risk factors can’t be avoided. For others, lifestyle changes, home tests and awareness can help you take control of your health and lower your risk for lung cancer.

Diagnosing lung cancer

During your appointment, we’ll talk to you about your symptoms and give you a physical exam. Usually, we’ll need additional information to formally make a lung cancer diagnosis. Common tests used include:

Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray is a non-invasive procedure that uses radiation to take a picture of the inside of your lungs. This enables our doctors to check for growths, tumors and damage inside your lungs caused by cancer.

CT scan

A CT scan is a non-invasive test similar to an X-ray. But, unlike an X-ray, you’ll lie on a table while the scanner moves around your body to take pictures of your lungs at every angle. Tumors are more likely to show up on a CT scan, and CT scans are able to show the exact size, shape and location of lung tumors.

Sputum cytology

Sputum is another word for the mixture of mucus and blood you might cough up from your lungs. We might request samples of your sputum to examine under a microscope. Usually, samples will be taken in the morning for three days in a row for the most accurate results.


Sometimes, we might notice small masses in the lungs. Often, these masses aren’t cancerous. In order to check whether tissue is cancerous, we might recommend a biopsy. During a biopsy, a small amount of the mass is removed so it can be examined under a microscope. We’ll use anesthesia when needed to help keep you comfortable during the procedure. Your doctor will talk to you about whether a biopsy is necessary.

Treating lung cancer

Advancements in cancer research have found that each person’s response to cancer treatment is incredibly unique. We recognize that no two lung cancer treatment plans will be exactly alike and work closely with you to create a personalized treatment plan. It’s likely you’ll need a combination of several types of lung cancer treatment options and our oncologists, radiation oncologists, thoracic surgeons and pulmonologists will work together to find the most effective combination for you.

Common types of lung cancer treatment include:


Chemotherapy, often called “chemo,” uses drugs to kill cancerous cells. It’s commonly used to treat cancer or stop cancer from growing by shrinking the tumors. Chemotherapy can be used to treat both small cell and non-small cell lung cancer as the main treatment or along with surgery, radiation or other lung cancer treatments for the best possible result.

Immunotherapy (biologic therapy)

Immunotherapy uses antibodies to activate one’s immune system to kill cancerous cells. It’s commonly used to treat cancer or stop cancer from growing by shrinking the tumors. Immunotherapy can be used to treat both small cell and non-small cell lung cancer as monotherapy or along with chemotherapy, radiation or other lung cancer treatments for the best possible result.


Radiation therapy is used to treat and manage cancer in affected areas of the body by using beams of intense energy to damage or slow the growth of cancer cells. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells can’t heal damage caused by radiation. Radiation therapy can be used alone or along with other treatments like surgery or chemotherapy.


Surgery is often recommended for patients with non-small cell lung cancer. Lung surgery can only be performed if you’ll have enough healthy tissue left after tumors are removed so that your lungs can function properly. Surgery has the best cure rate for non-small cell lung cancer. We’ll work with you determine if lung surgery is a good treatment option for you.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of lung cancer treatment used to treat non-small cell lung cancer that uses strong medicines to target cancer cells directly. This treatment can isolate and change specific behaviors within cancer cells, like stopping their growth, killing cancer cells or blocking chemical signals within the cells. Because targeted therapy attacks cancer cells, it does less damage to normal, healthy cells than chemotherapy. This lung cancer treatment is most often recommended alongside chemotherapy for people with advanced lung cancer.

Clinical Research

Our team can offer new therapies in development for treatment of lung cancer. Participation in clinical cancer research may directly help the person with lung cancer and advance knowledge that can help with treatment of future lung cancer patients.

Learn more about our research.

Our cancer care services

During your lung cancer treatment, we help make sure that you and your family feel as comfortable and supported as possible. To do this, we offer a wide-range of services as part of personalized lung cancer treatment plans, including integrative therapies, palliative care, nutrition services, genetic counseling, cancer rehabilitation and more.

Learn more about our cancer care services

Molecular Testing of Lung Cancer

Some of NSCLC have developed as a consequence of one main “driving” malignant cancer growth mutation. It is very important to test cancer tissue for presence of this mutation because these cancers can be treated with targeted therapy that can be very powerful in controlling NSCLC. Our center routinely test for the presence of these mutations.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)