Lung cancer is cancer that starts in the lungs.
The lungs are located in the chest. When you breathe, air goes through your nose, down your windpipe (trachea), and into the lungs, where it flows through tubes called bronchi. Most lung cancer begins in the cells that line these tubes.
There are two main types of lung cancer:
If the lung cancer is made up of both types, it is called mixed small cell/large cell cancer.
If the cancer started somewhere else in the body and spreads to the lungs, it is called metastatic cancer to the lung.
Lung cancer is the deadliest type of cancer for both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.
Lung cancer is more common in older adults. It is rare in people under age 45.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. The more cigarettes you smoke per day and the earlier you started smoking, the greater your risk of lung cancer. There is no evidence that smoking low-tar cigarettes lowers the risk.
Lung cancer can also affect persons who have never smoked.
Secondhand smoke (breathing the smoke of others) increases your risk of lung cancer.
The following may also increase your risk of lung cancer:
Early lung cancer may not cause any symptoms.
Symptoms depend on the type of cancer you have, but may include:
Other symptoms that may also occur with lung cancer, often in the late stages:
These symptoms can also be due to other, less serious conditions, so it is important to talk to your health care provider.
Lung cancer is often found when an x-ray or CT scan is done for another reason.
If lung cancer is suspected, the doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history. You will be asked if you smoke. If so, you'll be asked how much you smoke and for how long you have smoked. You will also be asked about other things that may have put you at risk of lung cancer, such as exposure to certain chemicals.
When listening to the chest with a stethoscope, the doctor may hear fluid around the lungs. This may suggest cancer.
Tests that may be done to diagnose lung cancer or see if it has spread include:
In most cases, a piece of tissue is removed from your lungs for examination under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. There are several ways to do this:
If the biopsy shows cancer, more imaging tests are done to find out the stage of the cancer. Stage means how big the tumor is and how far it has spread. Staging helps guide treatment and follow-up and gives you an idea of what to expect.
Treatment for lung cancer depends on the type of cancer, how advanced it is, and how healthy you are:
The above treatments may be done alone or in combination. Your doctor can tell you more about the specific treatment you will receive.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
How well you do depends mostly on how much the lung cancer has spread.
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of lung cancer, particularly if you smoke.
If you smoke, now is the time to quit. If you are having trouble quitting, talk with your doctor. There are many methods to help you quit, from support groups to prescription medicines. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke.
Cancer - lung
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National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Non-small cell lung cancer. Version 4.2014. Available at: http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/nscl.pdf. Accessed August 31, 2014.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Small cell lung cancer. Version 1.2015. Available at: http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/sclc.pdf. Accessed August 31, 2014.
National Cancer Institute: PDQ Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 08/30/2013. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/non-small-cell-lung/Patient. Accessed August 31, 2014.
National Cancer Institute: PDQ Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 08/06/2014. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/small-cell-lung/healthprofessional. Accessed August 31, 2014.
Updated by: Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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