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San Cancer Services

Lung cancer

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is characterised by tumours originating in the lungs, which appear when abnormal cells multiply and form a mass which then interferes with lung function. The two main types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) (the most common), and small cell lung cancer (SCLC).

While the primary risk factor for lung cancer is exposure to tobacco smoke, other risk factors have been identified including:

  • Air pollution
  • Occupational hazards (asbestos, radon)
  • Genetic factors
  • Family history
  • History of lung infections
  • Compromised immune system
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

The San's cancer specialists are well-placed to assist with the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer, providing comprehensive lung cancer oncology services at our private hospital on Sydney's north shore.

Diagnosing lung cancer

Early symptoms of lung cancer may be a persistent cough, respiratory difficulties, blood when coughing or chest pain. In some cases a prolonged chest infection may also be a symptom. Diagnosis begins with a thorough review of the patient’s medical history and a physical examination.

Imaging tests such as x-ray and CT scans are conducted in the first instance, and may be followed by lung function tests. These are used by a lung oncology specialist to help identify any abnormalities in the lungs and to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the lungs.

Where the scans identify areas for more detailed review, a PET-CT scan may be conducted or a biopsy performed to collect tissue samples. A biopsy can be via various methods including a bronchoscopy (thin tube with a camera inserted into the airways) or a needle biopsy which extracts tissue through the skin. As different types of lung cancer cells have distinct characteristics, molecular and genetic testing may also be used by the lung cancer specialist to assist in guiding treatment options.

The San's Radiology & Nuclear Medicine and Pathology services, also located at our private hospital on Sydney's north shore, enable our oncology specialists to perform lung cancer screening quickly and efficiently, prior to proposing the individual's lung cancer treatment plan.

Treating lung cancer

Lung cancer may be treated with a combination of approaches, tailored to the type of cancer, the patient's history and the stage of the cancer when diagnosed.

Options include:

  • Surgery: with early stage NSCLC surgery can be curative; removing the entire lobe of a lung (lobectomy) or a portion (segmentectomy) are common surgeries.
  • Chemotherapy: most commonly used in advanced lung cancer or after surgery; aims to kill or inhibit growth of cancer cells.
  • Radiotherapy: targeted radiation therapy can be used as a standalone treatment for early stage cancer, or used to alleviate symptoms and slow tumour growth in advanced stages.
  • Targeted therapy: genetic testing may help identify appropriate candidates; targeted drugs inhibit cancer growth.
  • Immunotherapy: the use of checkpoint inhibitors to boost the immune system’s ability to recognise and attack cancer cells; standalone or in combination with other treatments.

Treatment for lung cancer can be called curative (aims to make all symptoms of the cancer go away) or palliative (where cancer is advanced). With palliative treatment, the aim is to control the cancer’s growth and maintain quality of life. The decision on treatment approach will depend on factors such as the patient’s overall health and preferences. The San’s multi-disciplinary lung cancer specialist teams coordinate care to ensure options are provided which best suit the individual’s needs and circumstances.

For each lung cancer case we bring together a multidisciplinary team which may include lung cancer oncologists, pulmonologists, pathologists and radiologists, who collaborate to develop a personalised treatment plan. This will include regular follow-up assessments and the monitoring of components of treatment to evaluate their effectiveness. The team will adjust strategies as needed to continually refine the treatment approach as required.


As with most cancers, early detection significantly enhances the prospects for successful lung cancer management. As a leading lung oncology private hospital, the San offers dedicated lung cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment services. Whether curative or palliative approaches are undertaken, our comprehensive lung cancer treatment services are focused on providing enhanced patient outcomes.

The San advantage

  • Comprehensive diagnostic services
  • Multi-disciplinary treatment teams
  • Individualised plans
  • Professional support
  • Leading-edge facilities and technology