What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer kills more men and women than any other type of cancer. It is also the second most common cancer for both groups. More men and women die from lung cancer each year than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Although lung cancer is one of the more difficult cancers to treat, many patients who caught the cancer early have been cured of the disease. Early detection of lung cancer can increase survival rates by 20%! The National Cancer Institute recommends a lung cancer screen for patients that meet certain criteria.

Symptoms of lung cancer

The following are common symptoms of lung cancer. The presence of one or more of these symptoms may or may not be due to cancer. It may be due to other underlying health care issues. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • A new cough that doesn’t go away
  • Changes in a chronic cough or “smoker’s cough”
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bone pain

Risk factors of lung cancer

At least 80% of lung cancers are believed to be caused from smoking. Second hand smoke is also considered a risk factor and increases a person’s chance of getting lung cancer by 30%. While smoking is a common cause, there are other risk factors associated with lung cancer. Having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will get lung cancer, but it may help you decide if you need to discuss your lung cancer screening eligibility, or your chances of getting lung cancer, with your healthcare provider. Risks associated with lung cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Exposure to second hand smoke
  • Exposure to radon gas or asbestos
  • Exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace (such as asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel, beryllium, cadmium, tar, and soot)
  • Radiation treatment for a previous cancer
  • Family history of lung cancer

Diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer

During a physical exam your healthcare provider may suspect lung cancer based on symptoms or certain risk factors that are present. There are several diagnostic tests your physician may use to determine if cancer is present. These include:

  • Chest x-ray
  • Sputum cytology
  • CT scan
  • Biopsy
  • Surgery
  • Bronchoscopy
  • PET scan

These tests will help determine the type of lung cancer that is present. There are two main types of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Non-small cell lung cancer makes up about 85% of all lung cancers. Adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and large cell carcinomas are types of NSCLCs. Both NSCLC and SCLC can be further broken down into stages depending on the location and growth of the cancer cells.

NSCLC can be broken down into four stages.

  • Stage I - cancer cells are only in the lungs and have not spread to other organs in the body
  • Stage II - cancer cells are in the lungs and nearby lymph nodes
  • Stage III – the cancer is found in the lungs, lymph nodes, and in the middle of the chest.
    Stage III can be broken down into subcategories based on the location of the tumor in the chest. If it is on the same side as the lung that contains cancer, it is Stage IIIA if the tumor is located on the opposite side of the chest, or is above the collar bone then it is categorized as Stage IIIB
  • Stage IV – the cancer may be in both lungs, the fluid around the lungs, or spread to another organ such as the liver or brain

SCLC can be broken down into two stages:

  • Limited stage – cancer is found on the side of the chest and nearby lymph nodes
  • Extensive stage – cancer has spread to other regions of the chest, nearby lymph nodes, and at times other organs.

Once your cancer has been diagnosed and classified into a stage, your physician will discuss your available treatment options. Treatment options will vary for each patient depending on the type and stage of the lung cancer. Your physician may use one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy/ radiofrequency ablation
  • Targeted therapy
  • Clinical trials
  • Surgery