Cancer Types

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Lung Cancers and Mesothelioma

Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells (a malignant tumor) that begins in the cells of the lungs. Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in adults, but it is the deadliest cancer in both men and women. It can develop over several years and originate in any part of the respiratory system. Although not everyone who develops lung cancer is a smoker, most cases of lung cancer can be attributed to smoking and quitting can reduce this risk.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops in the lining around the lung and chest cavity (pleural surface). It is strongly related to asbestos exposure and can take 30 or more years to develop after a patient is exposed.

Lung cancers we treat:

A team approach to care for thoracic cancers

The UMMC Cancer Center and Research Institute thoracic care team includes thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pulmonologists, pathologists, nurses, dietitians, and other specialists. This team often sees complex cases, in particular those needing combined therapy with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, or unusually complex surgery.

Team members meet as a group each week to review imaging, pathology, and other matters unique to each patient. Together, they consider and discuss a patient's type of thoracic cancer, how advanced it is, and other conditions or personal matters that may impact treatment recommendations. Members follow National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines in developing treatment plans.

This team also includes a coordinator who helps guide patients through the ins and outs of cancer treatment, and coordinates their initial appointment.

Appointments and locations

Contact the coordinator to schedule appointments or ask questions beforehand. We’ll work to schedule all of your appointments at the same time to make your care easier and more convenient. Most services will be at the Cancer Center and Research Institute in the Jackson Medical Mall, but we also provide cancer care on the main campus at University Hospital and the University Physicians Pavilion.

  • For appointments or questions, call our thoracic cancer coordinator at (601) 984-LUNG (5864).

Lung cancer screenings

Lung cancer has few symptoms in its early stages, so screening is important for early detection and treatment. We use low-dose CT scans and electromagnetic bronchoscopy to detect and diagnose cancer more quickly than with other methods.

Treatment options

Treating thoracic cancers is tricky since almost every lung cancer patient has an underlying lung disease that must be treated before, during, and after cancer treatment. A pulmonologist, surgeon, and oncologist working together can provide comprehensive treatment for your cancer and underlying lung problems. Standard treatment options for lung cancers include surgery, radiation therapy, photodynamic therapy, endoscopic stent placement, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. Mesothelioma is most commonly treated with chemotherapy, although occasionally patients may also receive surgery and/or radiation therapy. Thymomas are primarily treated with surgery, but also require chemotherapy and/or radiation at times.

Support services

Cancer can take an emotional toll on you and your family, and our job is to help you through it. Whether you need financial assistance or advice, counseling or a support group, or any other social or medical services, your nurse coordinator can quickly connect you to the care you’re looking for.

Tobacco cessation

Many cases of lung cancer are tied to smoking, so UMMC offers help for people who are ready to quit. The ACT Center can design a personalized treatment plan to let patients stop smoking and stay tobacco-free.

Lung cancer types and stages

Staging is how doctors describe how far a cancer has spread. They will use Roman numerals from I to IV, with IV showing the greatest spread. You also may hear doctors describe a cancer stage as localized or advanced.

  • Stage I means the cancer is totally within the lung tissue itself.
  • Stage II implies that it has spread to the first set of lymph noes (hilar).

Together, state I and II are often referred to as localized disease.

  • Stage III is when the cancer has spread to the next set of lymph noes in the middle of the chest (mediastinum).
  • Stage IV is when it has spread to to the linings of the chest wall or elsewhere in the body.

Advanced disease includes stages III and IV, and mean cancer has spread beyond the lining.

Molecular markers (lab tests) are done on tumor tissue to determine if a patient would be a candidate for targeted therapy or immunotherapy. Doctors need to know how far the cancer has spread and its molecular subtype so they can recommend the best treatment plan.

Types of lung cancers

Definitions provided by the website of the National Cancer Institute (

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Lung cancer (pulmonary carcinoma)

Cancer that forms in tissues of the lung, usually in the cells lining air passages. The two main types are small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. These types are diagnosed based on how the cells look under a microscope.

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Lung metastases

Certain cancers are more prone to spread to the lung, including kidney (renal) cancer, sarcomas, and colorectal cancers. When the lung is the sole site of metastases, a surgical resection of these lesions can often greatly prolong survival.

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This cancer occurs in the thin layer of cells called the pleura, that cover the lungs and line the chest cavity. Asbestos exposure is the primary risk factor in developing this rare form of cancer. Doctors diagnose from 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of malignant mesothelioma in the United States each year. The lifetime risk of getting it is 1 in 770.

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Neuroendocrine lung tumor

Cells that release hormones into the blood in response to a signal from the nervous system occur in many organs and can form either benign or malignant tumors. When these cancers occur in the lungs they are often called carcinoid tumors.

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Non-small cell lung cancer

A group of lung cancers that are named for the kinds of cells found in the cancer and how the cells look under a microscope. The three main types of non-small cell lung cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common kind of lung cancer.

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Pancoast tumor

A type of lung cancer that begins in the uppermost part of a lung and spreads to nearby tissues such as the ribs and vertebrae. It can cause compression of nerves leading to the arm and neck. It requires very careful delineation of treatment options.

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Small cell lung cancer

An aggressive (fast-growing) cancer that forms in tissues of the lung and often spreads to other parts of the body. The cancer cells appear small and oval-shaped when looked at under a microscope. This cancer, named for the small cells it contains, is heavily related to smoking.

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Thymic carcinoma

A rare type of thymus gland cancer. It usually spreads, has a high risk of recurrence, and has a poor survival rate. Thymic carcinoma is divided into subtypes, depending on the types of cells in which the cancer began.

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A tumor of the thymus, an organ that is part of the lymphatic system and is located in the chest, behind the breastbone.

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