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(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 include:
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the US for both men and women.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.
The following can cause damage to the cells in the lungs, leading to lung cancer:
Risk Factors TOP
Factors that may increase your chances of lung cancer:
Symptoms may include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will also ask about:
Tests may include:
Imaging tests evaluate the lungs and other structures. These may include:
The physical exam combined with all of your test results, will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, lung cancer is staged from I-IV. Stage I is a very localized cancer, while stage IV indicates a spread to other parts of the body.
The goal of treatment is to eliminate the cancer and/or control the symptoms.
Surgery involves removing the tumor and nearby tissue. Lymph nodes may also need to be removed. The type of surgery depends on the location of the tumor such as:
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This may also be used to relieve symptoms such as shortness of breath. External radiation is usually used to treat lung cancer. With this treatment, 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 in many forms, including pill, injection, and via a catheter. Chemotherapy is often used to kill lung cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
Newer Treatments TOP
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 55-74 years, and have a history of heavy smoking (such as one pack a day for 30 years).
Canadian Cancer Society
The Lung Association
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Lung cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer.html. Updated October 9, 2017.
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Targeted cancer therapies. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/targeted-therapies/targeted-therapies-fact-sheet. Updated October 5, 2017. Accessed October 9, 2017.
What do I need to know about lung cancer screening? American Lung Association website. Available at:
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Updated November 3, 2016. Accessed October 9, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 9/30/2013
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