What is lung cancer?

The lungs are two spongy organs in the chest that take in oxygen when one inhales and releases carbon dioxide when they exhale. Lung cancer is a harmful disease that begins in the lungs when normal processes of cell division and growth are disrupted, giving way to abnormal, uncontrollable growth. The cells grow and accumulate into a mass (tumor). Cancer may spread (metastasize) to lymph nodes or other organs in the body. Cancer from other organs also may metastasize to the lungs. There are four major types of lung cancers based on the appearance of cancer cells under the microscope, which include:
  • Lung nodules are small masses of tissue. Generally, larger nodules are more likely to be cancerous than smaller ones.
  • Small cell lung cancer occurs almost exclusively in heavy smokers and is less common than non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Non-small cell lung cancer is an umbrella term for several types of lung cancers that behave in a similar way. Non-small cell lung cancers include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma.
  • Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the chest lining, most often caused by asbestos exposure
The stages of lung cancer are:
  • Stage I. Cancer is limited to the lung and hasn't spread to the lymph nodes. 
  • Stage II. The tumor may have grown larger than 2 inches, or it may be a smaller tumor that involves nearby structures.
  • Stage III. The tumor may have grown very large and invaded other organs near the lungs. 
  • Stage IV. Cancer has spread beyond the affected lung to the other lung or to distant areas of the body.
Risk factors
  • Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for developing lung cancer.
  • Secondhand smoke. The risk of lung cancer increases if one is exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Exposure to radon gas. Living or working in an environment that has been contaminated with unsafe levels of radon can become a major health risk. 
  • Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens known to cause cancer can increase the risk of developing lung cancer, especially if one is a smoker.
  • Family history. Patients with relatives with lung cancer have an increased risk of the disease.
  • Vitamin supplements. Taking beta-carotene supplements increases the risk of lung cancer.
  • Radiation therapy. Cancer survivors who had radiation therapy to the chest are at higher risk of lung cancer.
In order to diagnose lung cancer, your doctor may recommend:
  • Imaging tests. An X-ray image of your lungs may reveal an abnormal mass or nodule. A CT scan can reveal small lesions in your lungs that might not be detected on an X-ray.
  • Sputum cytology. If you have a cough and are producing sputum, looking at the sputum under the microscope can sometimes reveal the presence of lung cancer cells.
  • Tissue sample (biopsy). A sample of abnormal cells may be removed in a procedure called a biopsy. Your doctor can perform a biopsy in a number of ways, including:
  • Bronchoscopy, in which your doctor examines abnormal areas of your lungs using a lighted tube that's passed down your throat and into your lungs.
  • Mediastinoscopy, in which an incision is made at the base of your neck and surgical tools are inserted behind your breastbone to take tissue samples from lymph nodes.
  • Needle biopsy, in which your doctor uses X-ray or CT images to guide a needle through your chest wall and into the lung tissue to collect suspicious cells.
Treatment decisions are based on what major type and stage of lung cancer a patient has and is aimed to decrease signs and symptoms to help one live longer.
  • Cigarette smoking causes about 90% of lung cancer cases. 
  • 25% of all cases of lung cancer worldwide are diagnosed in people who have never smoked. 
  • 2 out of 3 people diagnosed with lung cancer are over age 65
  • The most common age at diagnosis is 70 years.
  • More than 1 million cases of lung cancer are diagnosed yearly.
  • About 212,000 - 224,000 patients are diagnosed yearly in the United States.
  • More than 150,000 deaths occur yearly in the United States due to lung cancer. 
about lung cancer

  • "Lung Cancer." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 25 Sept. 2015. Web. 26 June 2017.
  • "Lung Cancer." Lung Cancer | Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library. John Hopkins Health System, n.d. Web. 26 June 2017.
  • "Lung Cancer." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 May 2017. Web. 26 June 2017.
  • "Lung Cancer Symptoms, Stages, Treatment & More." Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, 23 Dec. 2014. Web. 26 June 2017.



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