Lung Cancer Facts

Lung Cancer Facts

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Lung Cancer Facts & Risk Factors & Types

Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in both men and women in this country. According to the American Cancer Society, almost 228,190 people are diagnosed with it each year. Most cases are linked to tobacco smoking.

The lungs, which help you breathe, are two sponge-like, cone-shaped organs in the chest. When you breathe in, oxygen comes through your mouth and nose. It then travels through the windpipe (trachea), which divides into two tubes called bronchi. These take the oxygen to the left and right lungs. The inside of the lungs includes smaller branches called bronchioles and alveoli, which are tiny air sacs.

Each lung is divided into sections called lobes. The right lung has three lobes. The left lung, which has two lobes, is smaller than the right lung because the heart is also on the left side of the body.

The pleura is a thin membrane that covers the outside of each lung and lines the inside wall of the chest. It usually contains a small amount of fluid and forms a protective lining around the lungs that allows them to move smoothly during breathing.

Cancer Grows in Lungs, May Spread
  • Lung cancer forms in the tissues of the lungs, most often in the cells that line air passages. It occurs when cells in your lungs grow and multiply uncontrollably, damaging surrounding tissue and interfering with the lungs’ normal function.
  • Lung cancer may spread through your lymph system. Lymph is a clear fluid that contains tissue waste and cells that help fight infection. It travels through your body in vessels that are similar to veins. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs that link lymph vessels.
  • Cancer cells can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of your body through the bloodstream as well. When lung cancer spreads to other organs, it still is called lung cancer.


Lung Cancer Types:
Lung cancer is classified by the type of cells within the tumor. Each type of lung cancer grows and is treated in a different way. Lung cancers are divided into two main groups.

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): This is the most common type of lung cancer. The categories of non-small cell lung cancer are named for the type of cells in the cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma begins in cells that line the alveoli and make mucus. It is found more often in nonsmokers, women and younger people.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (cancer) begins in thin, flat cells in the lungs, and tobacco smoking most often causes it. It also is called epidermoid carcinoma.
  • Large cell carcinoma (cancer) begins in certain types of large cells in the lungs.

Small cell lung cancer: Also known as oat-cell cancer, this type of lung cancer makes up less than 20% of lung cancers and almost always is caused by tobacco smoking. It often starts in the bronchi, then quickly grows and spreads to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes.

Lung Cancer Symptoms:

Lung cancer symptoms vary from person to person, and sometimes people with lung cancer don’t have symptoms. If you have symptoms, they may include:
  • A cough that does not go away and gets worse over time
  • Constant chest pain, often made worse by deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Arm or shoulder pain
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored spit
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
  • Repeated episodes of pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Clubbing of fingers


If lung cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it may cause:
  • Bone pain
  • Arm or leg weakness or numbness
  • Headache, dizziness or seizure
  • Jaundice (yellow coloring) of skin and eyes
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or shoulder

These symptoms do not always mean you have lung cancer. However, it is important to discuss any symptoms with your doctor, since they may also signal other health problems.

Lung Cancer Diagnosis:

If you have symptoms that may signal lung cancer, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health and lifestyle, including smoking habits, plus your family history.

One or more of the following tests may be used to determine if you have lung cancer and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.

These Tests are:

  • Chest X-rays: Photographs of the lungs to look for abnormal areas.
  • Sputum cytology: A sample of mucus or phlegm brought up by coughing is looked at under a microscope.

If chest X-rays indicate an abnormality, one or more of these tests may then be performed:

Bronchoscopy: A thin flexible tube with a tiny camera is inserted through the nose or mouth and down into the lungs. A bronchoscope also can be used to take a small tissue sample for biopsy.

Fine needle aspiration (FNA): A very small needle is placed into the tumor. Suction is used to remove a small amount of tissue, which is then examined under a microscope.

Thoracentesis: Fluid from around the lungs is drawn out with a needle and looked at under a microscope.

Endobronchial Ultrasound (EBUS): Guided biopsy to check for lung cancer and determine if cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Video-Assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)

Imaging tests, which may include:

  • · CT or CAT (computed axial tomography)
  • · MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • · PET (positron emission tomography) scans

Lung Cancer Treatment:

If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including:

  • The stage and type of lung cancer
  • Other lung problems, such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis
  • Possible side effects of treatment
  • Your general health

Your treatment for lung cancer will be customized to your particular needs. It may include one or more of the following therapies to treat the cancer or help relieve symptoms.