LUNG CANCER FACTS
Lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in both men and women in this country. 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:
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.
Other types of lung cancer
Less common types of lung cancer include:
Cancer found in the lungs is sometimes another type of cancer that started somewhere else in the body and spread, or metastasized, to the lungs. These tumors are called lung metastases, and they are not the same as lung cancer. They usually are the primary, or original, type of cancer.
In rare cases, lung cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you.
Some people have an elevated risk of developing lung cancer.
Behavioral and lifestyle changes can help prevent lung cancer.
Anything that increases your chance of getting lung cancer is a risk factor. Smoking is the main risk factor for lung cancer.
Other risk factors for lung cancer include:
Not everyone with risk factors develops lung cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your doctor.
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:
If lung cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it may cause:
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 lung cancer, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible and find out if the cancer has spread. This will help your doctors choose the best type of treatment.
If you have symptoms that may signal lung cancer, your doctor will ask you questions about your medical, smoking and family history and whether you have been around certain chemicals or substances.
Lung Cancer Diagnosis
If you have symptoms that may signal lung cancer, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health; your lifestyle, including smoking habits; your family history; and whether you have been around certain chemicals or substances.
One or more of the following tests may be used to find out if you have lung cancer and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.
The two main tests to find out if you have lung cancer are:
If chest X-rays show an abnormal area, one or more of these tests may be used to find out if you have lung cancer:
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 looked at 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 find out if cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Video-Assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)
Imaging tests, which may include:
If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, your doctor will determine the stage (or extent) of the disease. This is a way to classify the cancer by how far and to which parts of the body it has spread. Staging helps the doctor plan the best treatment for you. Once the staging classification is determined, it stays the same even if treatment works or the cancer spreads.
Staging is often the most important part of your treatment. If the cancer is staged improperly, you may not receive the right treatment.
Small-cell lung cancer stages
Limited stage: Cancer is in one lung and possibly in lymph nodes on the same side of the chest.
Extensive stage: Cancer has spread to the other lung, to lymph nodes on the other side of the chest, to the fluid around the lung or to other parts of the body.
Non-small cell lung cancer stages
Stage 0 through stage IB tumors in which cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes are considered early stage lung cancer.
Occult stage: Lung cancer cells are found in spit or in a sample of mucus (phlegm) taken during bronchoscopy, but a tumor cannot be seen in the lung by imaging or bronchoscopy, or a tumor is present but is too small to be biopsied.
Stage 0: Abnormal cells are found only in the innermost lining of the lung. The tumor has not grown through this lining. A stage 0 tumor is also called carcinoma in situ. The tumor is not an invasive cancer.
Stage IA: The lung tumor is an invasive cancer. It has grown through the innermost lining of the lung into deeper lung tissue. The tumor is no more than 3 centimeters across. It is surrounded by normal tissue and does not invade the bronchus. Lung cancer cells are not found in nearby lymph nodes.
Stage IB: The tumor is larger or has grown deeper, but lung cancer cells are not found in nearby lymph nodes. The lung tumor is one of the following:
Stage IIA: The lung tumor is no more than 3 centimeters across. Lung cancer cells are found in nearby lymph nodes.
Stage IIB: The lung cancer is one of the following:
Stage IIIA: The tumor may be any size. Lung cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes near the lungs and bronchi and in the lymph nodes between the lungs on the same side of the chest as the lung tumor.
Stage IIIB: The tumor may be any size. Lung cancer cells are found on the opposite side of the chest from the lung tumor or in the neck. The tumor may have invaded nearby organs, such as the heart, esophagus or trachea. More than one malignant growth may be found within the same lobe of the lung. Cancer cells may be found in the pleural fluid.
Stage IV: Tumors may be found in more than one lobe of the same lung or in the other lung. Lung cancer cells may be found in other parts of the body, such as the brain, adrenal gland, liver or bone.
Treatment for lung cancer depends on the type of cancer, its spread, and the patient's performance status. Common treatment options are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
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