Lung cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the lungs. The most common type of lung cancer include:
- Non-small cell lung cancer—generally grows and spreads more slowly (most common)
- Small cell lung cancer—generally grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other parts of the body
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the US for both men and women.
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Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.
The following can cause damage to the cells in the lungs, leading to lung cancer:
- First- or second-hand smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes
- Exposure to asbestos (a type of mineral) or radon (radioactive gas)
Factors that may increase your chances of lung cancer:
- Using chewing tobacco
- Exposure to second-hand smoke
- Exposure to to asbestos or radon
- Having a lung disease, such as tuberculosis
- Family or personal history of lung cancer
- Exposure to to certain air pollutants
- Exposure to to coal dust
- Radiation therapy that was used to treat other cancers
- HIV infection
Symptoms may include:
- A cough that does not go away and worsens over time
- Constant chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
- Repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis
- Swelling of the neck and face
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will also ask about:
- Smoking history
- Substances that you have been exposed to
- Family history of cancer
Tests may include:
- Sputum cytology—a test that examines of a sample of mucus from the lungs
- Biopsy—removal of a sample of lung tissue to be examined under a microscope
Imaging tests evaluate the lungs and other structures. These may include:
- Chest x-ray
- Spiral CT
- PET scan
- PET/CT scan
- Bone scan
The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, lung cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.
The goal of treatment is to eliminate the cancer and/or control the symptoms.
To help reduce your chances of lung cancer:
- Do not start smoking. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how to successfully quit.
- Avoid places where people are smoking.
- Test your home for radon gases and asbestos. Have these substances removed if they are in the home.
- Try to avoid or limit occupational exposures.
The American Lung Association and American Cancer Society both suggest that screening for lung cancer with a low-dose CT scan may be considered if you are a smoker (or former smoker), aged 55-74 years, and have a history of heavy smoking (such as one pack a day for 30 years).