Our Thoracic Cancer Program focuses exclusively on cancers of the lung, esophagus and chest cavity. 

Many patients come to us not because of symptoms, but because a test for something else (a chest X-ray or CT scan) has shown a suspicious spot or abnormality. Not every spot, mass or nodule turns out to be lung cancer, so it is important to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible. If it is cancer, early treatment can lead to better outcomes.

Risk Factors for Lung Cancer

Many factors affect whether a person may develop lung cancer, including:

  • Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to substances such as radon gas, asbestos and other carcinogens
  • Family history

If you think you might be at a higher risk for developing lung cancer, talk to your doctor about what you can do. To learn more about risk factors for lung cancer, visit cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/lung.

Warning Signs of Lung Cancer

Because many people with lung cancer do not have symptoms until the cancer has spread, it is important to be aware of symptoms that might indicate a problem. These symptoms are not always caused by cancer, but it’s essential to discuss any possible problems with your doctor. Some common warning signs for lung cancer include:

  • A new cough, a cough that does not go away or one that gets worse over time
  • Dull, aching, persistent chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Recurring lung infections (bronchitis, pneumonia, etc.)
  • Wheezing or hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

For more information on lung cancer warning signs and symptoms, visit: www.cancer.org.

Types of Lung Cancer and Esophageal Cancer

Suspected lung cancer generally takes the form of a mass, nodule, spot or lesion in the lung. It can also appear as infiltrates, which look like pneumonia, but do not resolve with antibiotics — or other abnormal findings in the lung that don’t resolve on their own. These abnormalities can appear in different locations.

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

Non-small cell lung cancer makes up about 85% of lung cancers. Early-stage lung cancer is typically treated with surgical removal of the tumor, possibly followed by radiation and chemotherapy. For later-stage lung cancers, radiation and chemotherapy are the main treatments. Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body is usually treated with chemotherapy. Radiation is also frequently used to control symptoms.

Non-small cell can be divided into three types, named for the way the cells look under a microscope:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Large cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma

Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)

Accounting for 15% of lung cancers, limited stage small cell lung cancer (confined to the chest) is mainly treated with chemotherapy and radiation to the chest and low dose radiation to the brain to prevent progression of cancer in the brain. Extensive stage disease (spread outside of the chest) is treated with chemotherapy and, in select cases, radiation to the chest and brain or other sites to control symptoms.

Thoracic Mesothelioma

Thoracic mesothelioma is a cancer that arises in the thin membrane that surrounds the lungs. This membrane is part of the mesothelium, the layer of tissue that lines many of the body’s internal organs. The part of the mesothelium that protects the lungs is called the pleura, which is why this cancer is also known as pleural mesothelioma.

Thoracic mesothelioma is not lung cancer. It is also distinct from peritoneal mesothelioma, a less common form of this disease that develops in the lining of the abdominal cavity.

Malignant thoracic mesothelioma is a rare cancer. About 2,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with this disease every year. It is associated with industrial asbestos exposure, and the risk increases for individuals who have been exposed to asbestos or smoke. Thoracic mesothelioma can also be caused by inhalation of radon. Treatment options include surgery and chemotherapy.

Esophageal Cancers: Adenocarcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The two most common types of esophageal cancers are adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Some patients may require an esophagectomy, or surgical removal of the esophagus as part of their overall treatment. Multidisciplinary treatment is crucial for the esophageal cancer patient. 

While our surgeons have unmatched expertise in performing esophagectomies, that is not enough on its own. Esophageal cancer patients often need to be seen by a radiation oncologist, a hematologist/oncologist, a gastroenterologist, a radiologist, a nutritionist and a speech pathologist. We take a true team approach to comprehensive patient care and have an entire system of specialists who understand the patient’s needs throughout this disease process.

Mediastinal Tumors and Other Less Common Tumors in the Chest

Rare cancers that develop in the chest cavity, including the mediastinum (the area between the lungs). Surgery is important for diagnosis and treatment. Multidisciplinary care and discussions are very important in situations where there may not be a standard of care and each case requires an individualized approach.

There are other unusual types of cancer that can be found in the lungs including sarcomas, lymphomas and carcinoid tumors. These all have unique treatment approaches that need be to individualized based on the type of cancer and location.

Comprehensive Expertise for Treatment of Thoracic Cancers

As an academic medical center, Froedtert & MCW staff are always researching and carefully evaluating new treatment approaches, putting us at the forefront of the latest techniques, therapies and options.

We are different, because we combine a multidisciplinary approach, cutting edge expertise and comprehensive care to give you the best chance of survival. In weekly tumor board meetings, team members collaborate to provide you with the most effective treatment plan. You receive the expert advice of many specialists, often without having to see each one individually. 

When caught early, lung cancer is curable. Even if a lung cancer is not curable, it is still treatable. Treatments include:

Treatment can often extend life, but also decreases some of the symptoms caused by lung cancer.

Our Multidisciplinary Tumor Board

Of all the factors that set us apart at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, our multidisciplinary tumor boards and the broad experience of the specialists who attend the tumor boards may be one of the most important benefits for our patients.

In the Thoracic Cancer Program, our specialists meet regularly to review and discuss cases. Multidisciplinary tumor boards offer a comprehensive, coordinated approach to arrive at the best treatment plan for each patient.

The tumor board approach means a patient gets the opinion of every type of specialist involved in the program — including thoracic surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, radiologists, interventional radiologists, pulmonologists and pathologists. The process is easier and clearer for patients, who benefit from the expertise of multiple thoracic cancer specialists, all in one place.

Some cases may be reviewed again at tumor board meetings to adjust the treatment plan if necessary or revisit the patient’s progress after treatment.

The Thoracic Cancer Program includes a complete, caring team of specialist physicians with expertise in every treatment option. These physicians work closely together, giving every patient fully coordinated care that offers the best chance for survival. In the Thoracic Cancer Program, the experts specialize in treating only thoracic cancers, which means they have extensive experience in treating all stages of disease. They are using, testing, and discovering the latest treatment advances possible.

Second Opinion for Lung Cancer

A lung cancer second opinion can provide you with the reassurance that a lung cancer diagnosis is accurate and that you know all of the treatments options available to you. Learn more about our Cancer Second Opinion Program.

Lung Cancer Patient Resources

Thoracic cancers are challenging diseases. Learn about what questions you can ask to help prepare for your appointment:


Virtual Visits Are Available

Safe and convenient virtual visits by video let you get the care you need via a mobile device, tablet or computer wherever you are. We’ll gather your medical records for you and get our experts’ input so we can offer treatment options without an in-person visit. To schedule a virtual visit, call 1-866-680-0505.

Recognized as High Performing by U.S. News & World Report

Froedtert Hospital is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as high performing in three adult specialties and 16 procedures and conditions, including cancer, pulmonology and lung surgery and lung cancer surgery.