Lung cancer treatment in Denver, Colorado

Lung cancer is the #1 cause of cancer death in the U.S, for both men and women, claiming more lives annually than colon, prostate, ovarian, lymph and breast cancers combined. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 224,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year.

Types of lung cancer

Lung cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow and multiply in the lungs. There are two types of lung cancer:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer: The more common type of lung cancer; generally grows and spreads slowly
  • Small cell lung cancer: The type of lung cancer that grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other parts of the body

Lung cancer survival rates increase from 15% to over 90% with early detection, so get screened today.

Lung cancer screening

Lung cancer screenings are available through low-dose CT scans at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s. Screenings are important for people with a high risk of developing lung cancer because the scans detect cancer in earlier stages before most symptoms occur.

You may be a good candidate for a lung screening if you:

  • Are between the ages of 55 and 77
  • Are still smoking or have quit in the last 15 years
  • Have smoked at least 30 pack years (multiply the number of packs smoked per day by the number of years smoked)

Effective in 2015, the Affordable Care Act mandates that preventive care, such as lung cancer screenings, is paid for by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers at no cost (no co-pays, no co-insurance) to the patient.

Talk to your primary care physician about whether you should be screened for lung cancer. If your screening shows you have symptoms of lung cancer, a doctor will likely order a diagnostic CT scan.

Symptoms of lung cancer

Smoking poses the greatest risk of getting lung cancer, although it is possible to get this type of cancer even if you have never smoked. Lung cancer may not show obvious symptoms in its early stages, making getting a lung cancer screening even more important.

Symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pains
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Pneumonia
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite

While these issues can be indicative of other health problems, see your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms and think you may be at risk of lung cancer.

Multi-disciplinary lung cancer experts

At Presbyterian/St. Luke’s, patients are managed by a group of expert physicians, known as the multi-disciplinary care team, who determine the best treatment plan for each lung cancer patient. This group meets regularly to review each lung cancer case and develop a personal care plan for the patient. During meetings, physicians discuss individual patient cases, go over findings and recommend treatment therapies.

Members of a multi-disciplinary care team include:

  • Pulmonologist — expert physician for respiratory disorders and often the first doctor you see when your primary care doctor has a concern related to your lungs or breathing
  • Radiologist — a physician who oversees any imaging tests, such as a CT scan, MRI or PET scan
  • Thoracic surgeon — a surgical specialist who evaluates your lung cancer diagnosis and determines if surgery is feasible or necessary
  • Pathologist — a physician who reviews all tissue samples to provide diagnostic information that confirms cancer and its staging
  • Medical oncologist — works with you to explain the clinical options available and determines if chemotherapy is needed
  • Radiation oncologist — works with you to explain the course of radiation therapy
  • Oncology nurse navigator — an oncology-certified nurse who acts as your first point-of-contact to guide you through the entirety of your cancer journey

Lung cancer testing and diagnosis

Physicians at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s work together to provide cutting-edge lung cancer care.

We offer the superDimension™ Navigation System, a minimally invasive approach that accesses hard-to-reach areas of the lung. This system uses a CT scan file planner with an electromagnetic tracking system, almost like a GPS, to guide the physician to a pulmonary nodule.

Computer-generated imagery allows pulmonologists to biopsy nodules deep inside the lungs and lymph nodes that were previously hard to reach with traditional bronchoscopes. This technology is more accurate and less invasive with fewer complications than a traditional biopsy. It is especially important for patients with limited respiratory reserve.

Other common lung cancer diagnostic tests are CT scans, PET scans and MRIs.

  • CT scans are a series of X-ray images taken from different angles to create more conclusive images of the lungs. CT scans are used to plan surgical or radiation treatment. Presbyterian/St. Luke’s was one of the first in the region to offer a 320-slice low dose CT scan. The CT scan procedure takes about 10 minutes and usually requires no special preparations, needles or injections unless your doctor orders it be administered through an IV.
  • PET scans are ordered to evaluate metastatic disease in advanced or newly diagnosed lung cancer cases. All tissues process glucose, which is called ‘uptake,’ but when combined with a special contrast agent, cancer tumors will uptake glucose at an increased level compared to normal body tissues. If cancer has spread to other organs or to the bone, the PET scan will show increased uptake in these tissues.
  • MRI scans use a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of certain parts of the body. For lung cancers, an MRI may be ordered to determine whether cancer has spread to the brain tissue. When getting an MRI, you lie inside a tube-shaped MRI machine while the test creates a 3-D image of your brain.

Rocky Mountain Cancer Center

A U.S. Oncology partner, Rocky Mountain Cancer Center has teamed up with Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center to help provide even more medical oncology services.

Rocky Mountain Cancer Center contributes crucial physicians and cares for lung cancer patients who start their journey at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s. Together, we aim to provide you with the best cancer care possible throughout Denver.

About Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute

Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center is part of Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare. Our family of hospitals provides comprehensive cancer services with convenient access to cutting-edge therapies for people facing cancer in our communities. From diagnosis, to treatment and survivorship care, our oncology expertise ensures you have access to locally-trusted care with the support of a globally-recognized network.

askSARAH helpline

Have cancer questions? We can help. askSARAH is a dedicated helpline for your cancer-related questions. Our specially-trained nurses are available 24/7 and all calls are confidential. Contact askSARAH at (303) 253-3225 or chat online at