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The Facts About Lung Cancer

Nov 30, 2016 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
The Facts About Lung Cancer was provided by University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center.

When you think of certain cancers, which ones come to mind? Breast? Prostate? Colon? Pancreatic? Truth be told, lung cancer kills more Americans than any other type of cancer.

Lung cancer is responsible for an estimated 160,000 deaths in the United States annually. There are two major types: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, so named because of how the cells look under a microscope. Non-small cell lung cancer is more common, and it generally grows and spreads more slowly. There are three main types of non-small cell lung cancer, named for the type of cells in which the cancer develops: squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell lung cancer. Small cell lung cancer grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other organs in the body.

Signs and Symptoms

  • A persistent cough that gets worse over time
  • Constant chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
  • Repeated pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Swelling of the neck and face
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Fatigue

What Causes It?

Exposure to carcinogens (cancer causing agents) damages DNA in the cells of the body.  The major cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoking. Other contributing factors include environmental tobacco smoke, occupational exposure to carcinogens, and diet.

Who’s Most At Risk?

Tobacco smoke is the biggest carcinogen, responsible for 85 percent of all lung cancers in the United States. Risk increases with the amount of tobacco used and the amount of time it has been used. Non-smokers exposed to tobacco smoke are also at risk of developing lung cancer. Other forms of tobacco use, such as cigar smoking and pipe smoking, are also associated with lung cancer. Other risk factors include:
  • Family history
  • Environmental and occupational exposure to certain substances, including arsenic, asbestos, ether, chromium, silica, cadmium, nickel, and radon
  • Exposure to excessive radiation (wartime or industrial exposure, or radiotherapy to the chest)
  • Lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Poor diet (however, diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce risk)

Treatment Options


The best means of prevention is to never start smoking or chewing tobacco or to stop using tobacco products. A healthy diet is also an important part of prevention.

Treatment Plan

A treatment plan depends on the cell type, stage of disease, possibility for removing the tumor and the patient’s ability to survive surgery.

Drug Therapies

Various therapies can treat lung cancer.
  • Chemotherapy can control cancer growth and relieve symptoms.
  • Photodynamic therapy involves injecting a chemical into the bloodstream, which is absorbed by cells all over the body, including cancer cells. A laser light activates the chemical, which then kills the cancer cells. Photodynamic therapy may be used to control bleeding, relieve breathing problems, or to treat very small tumors.

Surgical and Other Procedures

Surgery is the only treatment capable of curing non-small cell lung cancer. Removal of a small part of the lung is a segmental or wedge resection, removal of an entire lobe of the lung is a lobectomy, and removal of an entire lung is a pneumonectomy. Radiation therapy is used before surgery to shrink a tumor, or after surgery to destroy remaining cancer cells. Radiation therapy may also be used instead of surgery, or it may be used to relieve symptoms such as shortness of breath.

Prognosis/Possible Complications

The outlook varies by cell type and stage of the disease. In general, the prognosis is better for squamous cell cancers than for adenocarcinomas. Early detection improves chances of survival.

Follow Up

Periodic follow up is useful to help to detect recurrence of the lung cancer or other smoking-related cancers. Frequent follow up and rehabilitation for loss of lung function from cancer, surgery, or other treatment may be necessary. Above else, make sure you keep your scheduled appointments with your health care provider!

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