(NSCLC; Non-small Cell Lung Cancer; Non-small Cell Bronchogenic Carcinoma; Small Cell Lung Cancer)
by Laurie LaRusso, MS, ELS
Lung cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the lungs. The most common type of lung cancer are:
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. If cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This growth is called a tumor. Cancer growths can invade nearby tissue. It can then spread to other parts of the body. Regular damage increases the turnover of cells.
The following are known to damage to the lungs, and cause lung cancer:
Things that may increase your chances of lung cancer are:
Symptoms and signs may include:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will also ask about:
Tests may include:
Images of the lungs and chest may be taken with:
The doctor will use results from all tests to determine the stage of cancer. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Lung cancer is staged from 1 to 4. Stage 1 cancer is contained in a small area. Stage 4 caner is one that has spread to other parts of the body.
Lung cancer screening may also be recommended to long-term smokers. These tests can help to find earl stage cancer in those at high risk.
The goal of treatment is to remove as much cancer as possible and control the symptoms.
Surgery is done to remove the tumor and nearby tissue. Lymph nodes may also need to be removed. The type of surgery depends on the stage and area. Common choices include:
Radiation therapy may be part of treatment. Radiation can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The therapy may also be used to relieve symptoms such as shortness of breath. External radiation is usually used to treat lung cancer. Radiation is directed at the tumor from a source outside of the body.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. This may be given as pills, injections, or through a catheter. Chemotherapy is often used to kill lung cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
Researchers continue to study ways to treat lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute considers these potential therapies:
Other treatments that are being researched include:
To help reduce your chances of lung cancer:
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 to 74 years, and have a history of heavy smoking.
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Small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/small-cell-lung-cancer. Accessed March 17, 2021.
Targeted cancer therapies. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/targeted-therapies/targeted-therapies-fact-sheet. Accessed March 17, 2021.
What do I need to know about lung cancer screening? American Lung Association website. Available at:
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Accessed March 17, 2021.
Last reviewed March 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/8/2021
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