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Lung Cancer & Other Thoracic Cancers

With the latest diagnostic tools and innovative treatments at the ready, the Lung and Thoracic Cancer Care Team at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center will talk to you about your options and collaborate to design the best possible treatment plan for you.

Thoracic cancers are any cancers that begin inside your chest cavity. The most common thoracic cancer is lung cancer, which is also the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in South Carolina. The experts on our team specialize in identifying and treating lung cancer and a variety of other thoracic cancers:

  • Non-small cell lung cancer (84% of lung cancer diagnoses).
  • Small cell lung cancer.
  • Thymus cancer, which forms in the thymus gland, where T-cells mature.
  • Esophageal cancer and Barrett’s esophagus.
  • Chest wall and mediastinal tumors.
  • Pleural cancers like mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that affects the tissues lining your chest.

Our multidisciplinary team includes pulmonologists, oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and researchers. Our experts don’t stop at providing top-notch care — they’re also working tirelessly to discover the next cutting-edge treatments. A novel combination immunotherapy treatment developed at Hollings for advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) that has continued to grow after initial treatment is now being tested through a nationwide clinical trial. And Hollings is expanding access to lung cancer screenings for veterans and medically underrepresented groups so that potential lung cancers can be diagnosed and treated earlier.

What is lung cancer? | Symptoms | Treatment | Care Locations | Statistics | Common Questions | Latest News

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In good hands

You know you're in good hands at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. Here, you have access to the latest innovations in cancer treatment, including clinical trials, advanced surgical techniques, support services and survivorship planning. You can rest easy knowing we hold national rankings for cancer care and take a leadership role in cancer research and prevention.

The Hollings difference

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the most common type of thoracic cancer. It accounts for more cancer deaths than any other type of cancer.

A full 90% of lung cancers are linked to smoking. The best way to prevent lung cancer is to not smoke, or to quit if you do smoke. We offer you help quitting through our Smoking Cessation Program and the Tobacco Treatment Program. Long-time smokers can benefit from annual screenings, which can catch lung cancer early when it hasn’t spread and is easier to treat. 

Have more questions about lung cancer? Check out our answers to common questions.

Lung cancer symptoms

In early stages, lung cancer and other thoracic cancers often have no signs or symptoms, making them hard to diagnose. While symptoms of lung and thoracic cancer will vary depending on the type and location, possible signs can include:

  • A new cough that won’t go away or gets worse
  • Changes in a cough you’ve had for a while such as bringing up rusty-looking or bloody mucus
  • Chest pain that gets worse when you laugh, cough or take a deep breath
  • New or frequent heartburn, indigestion or vomiting
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Unusual weight loss or having no appetite

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it's important to talk with your doctor to make sure they do not indicate cancer. An imaging test like an X-ray, ultra-sound, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help identify any unusual areas in your chest, and a needle biopsy can confirm whether or not there are any cancer cells present.


Our grandchildren are growing as fast as we can turn around. Another good reason why I quit smoking was to watch them grow up.

Gary Davis, lung cancer survivor

Gary's story
an older woman and man sit together outside their house

What may have been a life-ending diagnosis with our parents or grandparents is not now. We have changed the impossible to possible, and I think MUSC is doing their share of making that happen.

Robert Shields, lung cancer survivor

Robert's story
Robert Shields stands outside

Less than a ten percent survival chance from esophageal cancer and then stage three lung cancer, and I’m still here. The doctors, nurses and staff know what they’re doing, and they are here to help you.

Rick Hunt, esophageal cancer survivor

Rick's story
Rick Hunt sits outside


Lung cancer treatment

Dr. Mariam Alexander

The number of people who survive and thrive after receiving a lung or thoracic cancer diagnosis is steadily rising thanks to greater awareness, fewer people smoking, better early detection, and advances in treatment.

Our Lung and Thoracic Cancer Care Team offers the highest quality, most advanced cancer treatments available today. Our team of specialists uses state-of-the-art technology and procedures to determine the stage and size of your cancer and whether it has spread to other areas.

Usually, treating lung cancer and other thoracic cancers calls for combining several therapies such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy. Your personalized treatment plan is customized to fit the location of your cancer, its stage, and your age and general health. Your treatment options may also include the possibility of receiving a unique, new therapy through one of our lung cancer clinical trials.

Radiation therapy for lung cancer

  • Advanced technologies such as hypofractionated treatment allow us to treat certain lung and other thoracic cancers with shorter periods of radiation, which is often more convenient and just as effective as older radiation methods.
  • The latest radiation therapies such as TomoTherapy and brachytherapy minimize the impact on healthy tissues.

Surgery for lung cancer

  • Specially trained surgeons and operating room staff provide the widest range of surgical techniques for every stage and type of lung cancer and other thoracic cancers including: Curative Surgery, Preventive Surgery, Diagnostic Surgery, Staging Surgery, Debulking Surgery, Palliative Surgery, Supportive Surgery, and Reconstructive Surgery.
  • Minimally invasive surgery uses laparoscopic or robotic tools and cameras to do complex procedures through small incisions instead of a large incision. These specialized procedures allow our team to:
    o Reduce damage to nearby healthy tissue
    o Reduce pain
    o Reduce infection risk
    o Shorten recovery time
  • Robotic surgery uses our state-of-the-art da Vinci® Surgical System for the highest level of surgical precision that also helps shorten your recovery time.

Medical management for lung cancer

  • Immunotherapy harnesses your own immune system to fight lung and other thoracic tumors. It is often used along with chemotherapy and is given through a vein in your arm or hand.
  • Targeted drug therapy is used to kill cells with cancerous features throughout your body when your cancer has spread to other areas. Targeted drug therapies for lung cancer and other thoracic cancers include hormone therapies, signal transduction inhibitors, gene expression modulators, apoptosis inducers, angiogenesis inhibitors, immunotherapies, and toxin delivery molecules.

Refer a lung cancer patient

To refer a lung cancer patient to Hollings, please call patient referral coordinator Monique Gore at 843-985-5657.

Nurse navigator support

Our lung cancer nurse navigator, Claudia Miller, BSN, RN, OCN, ONN-CG, will help you understand what to expect during treatment and answer questions you may have.

You will get individual attention from lung and thoracic cancer specialists who will complete a thorough review of your cancer and create a personalized treatment plan.

Dr. Katie Schmitt guides a patient doing a physical therapy exercise with a metal bar

Support from start to finish

We pride ourselves on our holistic approach to cancer care. We offer you many resources to help you throughout your cancer journey, including financial counseling, physical therapy, nutrition services, and support groups.

Patient Resources

Lung & Thoracic Cancer Care Locations

MUSC Hollings Cancer Center Downtown

86 Jonathan Lucas Street

Charleston, SC 29425

Scheduling: 843-792-9300

Hematology Oncology Florence

Florence Medical Center

Medical Mall A

805 Pamplico Highway

Suite: 315

Florence, SC 29505

Scheduling: 843-792-9300

Cardiovascular Surgery Florence

805 Pamplico Highway

Suite: 300

Florence, SC 29505

Main: 843-676-2760

Pulmonology Florence

805 Pamplico Highway

Suite 300

Florence, South Carolina 29595

Main: 843-673-7529

Lung cancer statistics

According to the American Cancer Society, here are some of the most notable statistics regarding lung cancer:

  • Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women in the United States.
  • About 234,580 new cases of lung cancer (116,310 in men and 118,270 in women) are estimated to occur in the U.S. in 2024.
  • One in five cancer deaths are from lung cancer, making it the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.
  • About 125,070 deaths from lung cancer (65,790 in men and 59,280 in women) are estimated to occur in the U.S. in 2024.

Common questions about lung cancer

Have you or a loved one received a diagnosis of lung cancer? You probably have a lot of questions. There’s a lot of information to take in after a cancer diagnosis. Your doctor can answer questions specific to your care, but we have compiled a list of some of the most common questions for your reference below.


Latest lung & thoracic cancer news