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Lung Cancer Care

Lung cancer is the second most diagnosed type of cancer in the U.S., and the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women. However, it’s still survivable — and your chances of recovery may be higher if you seek care from experienced pulmonologists and other lung cancer specialists.

At VCU Health, we offer all the technology, techniques and treatments that have transformed lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. Our capabilities include:

  • Lung cancer screening. We follow national lung cancer screening guidelines that incorporate personalized risk assessments and low-dose CT scans. This helps us identify lung cancer in its earliest stage — when it’s most treatable — and provide counseling on the best diagnostic and treatment options.
  • Interventional pulmonologyWe offer minimally invasive techniques to biopsy (or treat) lung tumors. We can take tissue samples from your lung tumor and nearby lymph nodes and stage the tumor, all at the same time. This helps you avoid multiple diagnostic procedures.
  • Minimally invasive lung cancer surgery. Whenever possible, we use less invasive techniques to help you recover more quickly and with less pain. Our goal is to remove your tumor while preserving as much healthy lung tissue as possible.

You can also take comfort knowing our pulmonologists work closely with lung cancer specialists from VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center — one of only two National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in Virginia. This is the highest honor a cancer program can achieve, and it places us in the top 4% of cancer centers nationwide.

Understanding Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is a type of cancer that grows in one or both lungs. Your risk of lung cancer is much higher if you’re a current or former smoker. But non-smokers can get lung cancer, too.

Types of Lung Cancer

VCU Health treats all types of lung cancer, including:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer. The term “non-small cell” refers to several lung cancers that look similar under a microscope. These include adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and large cell carcinoma.
  • Small cell lung cancer. This type of lung cancer isn’t very common, but nearly always affects people with a history of smoking.
  • Metastatic lung cancer. This refers to lung cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (usually the bones, brain or liver).

We also treat people whose lung cancer has returned, sometimes years after their initial treatments.

Lung Cancer Symptoms

It’s important to recognize the signs of lung cancer. Symptoms may not appear until your cancer has reached an advanced stage. And they can mimic other, less serious conditions like bronchitis.

Talk to your doctor — or ask for a referral to a pulmonologist — if you have any of these new or worsening symptoms:

  • A cough that won’t go away
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Unusual fatigue

If you have lung cancer, early treatment (before it has a chance to grow or spread) is your best chance for a cure.

Lung Cancer Screening

National guidelines issued by the US Preventive Services Task Force have improved early detection of lung cancer. These guidelines allow many current and former smokers to have an annual screening exam called a low-dose CT scan.

Low-dose CT scans take the same kinds of pictures as regular CT scans; they can detect even tiny lung tumors. However, they use significantly lower amounts of radiation and don’t require any contrast solution. Extensive research has shown that screening with low-dose CT scans instead of a traditional chest X-ray can reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer by up to 20%.

VCU Health is home to Virginia’s first American College of Radiology-accredited lung cancer screening center. This accreditation proves we meet or exceed strict criteria related to CT quality and safety.

We offer lung cancer screenings via low-dose CT daily on our main campus in Richmond. We also offer screenings at our outpatient clinics in Gateway, Short Pump, New Kent and Stony Point.

Find out if you’re eligible for an annual lung cancer screening

Advanced Lung Cancer Treatment in Richmond

Patients throughout Virginia and beyond choose us for lung cancer treatment because we offer unmatched experience, expertise and compassion.

US News & World Report 2023-2024 High Performing Hospitals for Lung Cancer SurgeryA Team Approach to Lung Cancer Care

Research suggests that people with cancer have better outcomes when they receive more than one type of cancer treatment, and more than one cancer specialist. That’s why at VCU Health, experts from many specialties work together to plan and provide your treatments.

Your lung cancer care team may include:

  • Pulmonologists who coordinate lung cancer screenings, order diagnostic tests and keep an eye on your long-term lung health.
  • Interventional pulmonologists who perform innovative diagnostic tests and certain treatments.
  • Medical oncologists who help treat cancer with special medicines.
  • Radiation oncologists who treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Radiologists who specialize in lung imaging procedures.
  • Thoracic surgeons who perform various surgical procedures to remove lung tumors.
  • Research coordinators who can help you enroll in lung cancer clinical trials.

Lung Cancer Treatments We Offer

No matter what type of lung cancer you have or how advanced it is, we offer the treatments you need to fight your cancer. These include:

  • Chemotherapy. Powerful medicines that kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Immunotherapy. Drugs that help your immune system identify and destroy certain types of non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Targeted therapy. Drugs that target tumors with specific genetic mutations, to make sure they don’t grow or spread. When we take a sample of (biopsy) your lung tumor to see if it’s cancerous, we’ll also run genetic tests to see if you’re eligible for targeted therapy.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation can destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. With external radiation, we use a machine to send radiation into your body. This includes stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT), which targets the tumor while minimizing toxicity to normal, healthy lung tissue. With internal radiation (brachytherapy), we insert tiny amounts of radioactive material near or inside your tumor.
  • Radiosurgery. This is a strong, highly targeted radiation therapy that treats lung tumors in fewer sessions.
  • Surgery. We offer a full range of surgical procedures, including minimally invasive options, for patients whose cancer has not spread. These include lobectomy (removing a single section of lung) or pneumonectomy (removing an entire lung).

At VCU Health, you also have access to additional services that help you cope with your diagnosis and treatments and support your recovery.

Lung Cancer Research at VCU Health

Many of our pulmonologists and other lung cancer specialists are also researchers. In addition to caring for patients, they work with scientists from across VCU Health — and across the country — to bring new discoveries out of the lab and into the exam room or operating room. It’s efforts like theirs that provide hope and healing to people with lung cancer.

For example, researchers in the Translational Lung Cancer Research Group at VCU School of Medicine are investigating ways to use ribonucleic acid (RNA) to treat lung cancer.

Our VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center offers around 200 clinical trials; many of these are studies related to lung cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

If you enroll in a clinical trial, you have the opportunity to try promising new treatments before they’re widely available. Treatments offered through clinical trials may be more effective or have fewer side effects than the treatments that are currently available.

Contact Us

Make an Appointment

If you’re concerned about your lung health, consider scheduling an appointment with one of our pulmonologists.

If your health insurance plan requires a referral before seeing a pulmonologist, start with your primary care provider. If you don’t need a referral, you can schedule an appointment by calling (800) 762-6161. You can also request an appointment online.

Refer Your Patient

To refer a patient for lung cancer screening or diagnosis, please call (804) 828-7999.

Our Providers

John Heard Jr, AGACNP

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Danai Khemasuwan, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Alyssa McKee, AGACNP

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Patrick Nana-Sinkam, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

Dikshya Sharma, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

R. Wes Shepherd, MD

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine