Lung cancer

Learning you have lung cancer is scary. But advances in cancer detection and more targeted therapies have brought hope to those living with this disease.

At UW Health and the UW Carbone Cancer Center we offer personalized care and the latest advances to treat many kinds of lung cancer. These include small and non-small cell lung cancer, mesothelioma and bronchioalveolar carcinoma.

Whether you come to us for cancer treatment or for a second opinion, you can count on your team at UW Health.

Experience counts

The lung cancer team at UW Health and the UW Carbone Cancer Center have the expertise that comes with experience.

We treat more than 400 patients with a lung cancer diagnosis
We have more than 60 active lung cancer clinical trials

UW Carbone Cancer Center

The experts at the UW Carbone Cancer Center intimately understand every type of cancer. We will get to know you and design a treatment plan that works for you and your family.

Learn more

Symptoms and diagnosis

Diagnosing lung cancer

Symptoms of lung cancer are different at all stages of the disease. In early-stage lung cancer, you may have no symptoms. If your lung cancer has progressed, you may notice:

  • A cough (with or without blood)

  • Chest pain

  • Hoarseness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Shortness of breath

  • Tiredness

  • Weight loss

  • Wheezing

 If lung cancer spreads to other parts of your body, it can cause:

  • Arm or leg weakness

  • Balance problems

  • Bone pain

  • Dizziness

  • Headache

  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)

  • Seizures

  • Swollen lymph nodes

Doctors use imaging tests and procedures to diagnose lung cancer. Imaging tests — like CT scans and PET scans — take pictures of your lungs. These pictures help your doctors find lung cancer.

Special surgical procedures give doctors a closer look at your lung tissue. In some cases, these procedures are used to remove tissue for testing. This is called a biopsy. Surgical procedures help doctors determine the stage of your cancer, or how far it has spread.

Advanced diagnostic procedures

UW Health offers the most advanced procedures for diagnosing lung cancer - these include:

During this procedure, a CT scan takes an image of your lungs. This image helps your doctor find suspected cancer cells. These cells are removed with a long, thin needle for testing.

This test allows doctors to access tissue deep inside your lungs. During an ENB, a CT scan creates images of your lungs. These images are used as a map as doctors guide a special scope to specific parts of your lung.

This test helps your doctor determine if your cancer has spread. During this test, a scope is guided through your mouth and into your windpipe. The scope takes images of your lymph nodes and other parts of your body in and around your lungs.

This test is used for early detection of lung cancer. During this test, a scope is guided through your mouth and into your lung. A fluorescent light is used to detect tissue that may become cancer. Fluorescent light makes precancerous tissue appear dark red. Healthy tissue looks green.

This surgical procedure can determine the stage of your cancer. During a mediastinoscopy, your surgeon makes a small incision below your neck. A scope is inserted into the incision to reach the area behind your breastbone. Your surgeon uses the scope to move surgical tools to collect lymph node tissue for testing.

Treatments and research

Targeted treatment options

Your treatment will depend on the type of lung cancer you have. The size of the cancer and how far it has spread will also affect your treatment options.

Lung cancer treatment options include medication therapy, radiation and surgery.

Medication treatments for lung cancer include chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells. Targeted therapy makes cancer cells grow more slowly. We also offer the latest advances in immunotherapy — medication treatment that uses your immune system to fight your cancer and have improve the outcome for many patients with lung cancer.

Radiation therapy kills cancer cells with radiation. Tomotherapy, developed here at UW Health, is one type of radiation therapy for lung cancer. Tomotherapy works by creating a 3-D image of your tumor. Doctors use the image to deliver radiation directly to your cancer. As a result, there is less damage to your healthy tissue.

MRI-guided radiation therapy is another radiation therapy used at UW Health. This is one of the most recent technology advancements in Radiation Oncology using a unique combination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and radiotherapy technologies.

With this MRI-guided radiation therapy, physicians have greater control over the daily radiation prescriptions because they are able to see the patient's internal anatomy and adapt to movements that may occur during the actual treatment delivery.

For some people with lung cancer, surgery is the best treatment. There are three main types of lung cancer surgery:

  • Wedge resection — Removal of a small part or “wedge” of the lung

  • Lobectomy — Removal of an entire lobe or a portion of the lung

  • Pneumonectomy — Removal of the whole lung

Whenever possible, we offer minimally invasive surgery. With minimally invasive surgery, your incisions are smaller and you recover faster.

Video-assisted thoracoscopic (VATS) lobectomy is one type of minimally invasive surgery. During this procedure, your surgeon makes a small incision between your ribs. They then insert a camera, giving them a view of your chest cavity. Your surgeon makes another small incision used to guide surgical tools and remove part of your lung.

UW Health offers a combined surgery, chemothearpy and/ or radiation treatment for lung cancer. This treatment is called VATS wedge resection with brachytherapy. This treatment combines minimally invasive surgery with a special type of radiation treatment.

Another unique combination therapy offered at UW Health is photodynamic therapy (PDT). During this two-step treatment, you receive a special light-activated drug. The drug moves to your cancer cells and stays there. Your doctor then uses a tube called a bronchoscope to position a laser near your cancer. The light from the laser is absorbed by the drug within your cancer cells, causing them to die.

Some patients benefit from experimental treatments for cancer. Experimental treatments are offered through clinical trials. At the UW Carbone Cancer Center, patients have access to more than 250 cancer clinical trials. For lung cancer alone, we offer more than 60 trials of new medications and therapies.

Tests and prevention

Lung cancer screening

At UW Health, we offer lung cancer screening for people at high risk of developing lung cancer. Our lung cancer screening program requires that you: 

  • Be between the ages of 55 and 80 years old

  • Be a current smoker who has smoked at least one pack per day for 30 years or more, or a former smoker who has smoked at least one pack per day for 30 years or more but quit fewer than 15 years ago.

  • Exhibit no current symptoms of lung cancer 

To learn more, call (608) 287-2050

Meet our team

A team dedicated to you

There’s more to you than a cancer diagnosis. At UW Health and the UW Carbone Cancer Center, we never stop looking for ways to help you get back to being you. Our lung cancer team includes:

  • Genetic counselors

  • Integrative medicine physicians

  • Interventional pulmonologists

  • Medical oncologists

  • Nutritionists

  • Palliative care professionals

  • Pathologists

  • Psychologists

  • Radiation oncologists

  • Social workers

  • Thoracic surgeons

Medical oncology
Radiation oncology
Pulmonary and critical care medicine
Cardiothoracic surgery


Care close to home

The UW Carbone Cancer Center provides care throughout Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. Not all cancers will be treated at every location, however we will make every effort to connect you with care at a location convenient to you.

  • UW Carbone Cancer Center
    • 600 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • Open now
    • The University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center is a pioneer in cancer research and quality patient care. It is the only comprehensive cancer center in Wisconsin, as designated by the National Cancer Institute.

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  • UW Carbone Cancer Clinic - 1 S. Park
    • 1 S. Park St. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 287-2552
    • Open now
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  • SwedishAmerican Regional Cancer Center
    • 3535 N Bell School Road / Rockford, IL
    • (779) 696-9400
    • Open now
    • Patients here have convenient local access to UW Health cancer specialists in areas such as breast cancer, head-and-neck cancer, endocrine cancer, and thoracic surgical and abdominal surgical oncology.

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  • Beloit Cancer Center
    • 1670 Lee Lane / Beloit, WI
    • Open now
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  • UW Health Johnson Creek
    UW Health Johnson Creek
    UW Cancer Center Johnson Creek
    • 250 Doctors Ct. / Johnson Creek, WI
    • (920) 699-3500
    • Open now
    • UW Cancer Center Johnson Creek offers the people of southeastern Wisconsin local access to leading-edge research and treatments offered by the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center in Madison.

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  • UW Cancer Center at ProHealth Care
    • N16 W24131 Riverwood Drive / Waukesha, WI
    • Open now
    • Partnered with the UW Carbone Cancer Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, UW Health Cancer Center at ProHealth Care offers world-class cancer care in a comforting setting close to home.

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UW Carbone Cancer Center

The experts at the UW Carbone Cancer Center intimately understand every type of cancer. We will get to know you and design a treatment plan that works for you and your family.

Learn more

Patient and support services

Resources you can use

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, you and your loved ones may need extra support. Patients and families at the UW Carbone Cancer Center have access to many resources and support services.

More support

The Lung Cancer Support Group, offered through Gilda’s Club, is for anyone affected by lung cancer. The group meets the second Thursday of each month at:

Gilda’s Club
7908 UW Health Court
Middleton, WI 53562

For more information, call (608) 828-8880

Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer. The University of Wisconsin is home to the nationally-recognized Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention (UW-CTRI). Tobacco research from UW-CTRI is translated into treatment for people who want to quit smoking.

Learn more about UW-CTRI

Online resources