Lung Cancer

Overview

Lung Cancer is a disease that begins in the tissue of the lungs. There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer, or oat cell carcinoma.

Non-small cell lung cancer is most common, affecting almost 80 percent of patients. This type of lung cancer grows and spreads slowly. Small cell lung cancer cells multiply quickly and form large tumors than can spread throughout the body.

Small cell lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer and the most common cause of cancer-related death in men and women in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Symptoms

About 25 percent of people with lung cancer do not have symptoms. The cancer is first discovered on a routine chest X-ray or CT scan.
Symptoms include:
  • Persistent coughing or coughing up blood
  • Breathing difficulties, such as wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Unexplained weight loss or fatigue
  • Fever
  • Persistent bronchitis or repeated respiratory infections

Causes

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer.
  • Other, less common causes include:
  • Asbestos fibers
  • Radon gas
  • Family predisposition
  • Lung disease
  • Prior history of lung cancer
  • Air pollution

Risk Factors

  • Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to radon gas, asbestos, arsenic and some forms of silica and chromium
  • Family history
  • Diet high in fat and cholesterol

Diagnosis

Lung cancer is diagnosed using a variety of tools, including:
  • Health screenings that include discussions about your health history and lung function and oral cancer assessments
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Transbronchial biopsy
  • Brushings and washings
  • CT-guided biopsy
  • Video-assisted thorascopic surgery, or VATS, lobectomy
  • Lobar resection
  • MRI, PET and CT scans
  • Nuclear bone scans
  • Ventilation/perfusion scans
  • Pulmonary function testing
  • Referrals to an in-house smoking cessation program

Complications

Depending on the location of a tumor, lung cancer may cause:
  • Wheezing, shortness of breath and pneumonia if the airway becomes blocked or fluid fills the space between the lunch and chest wall
  • Persistent and unrelenting chest pain
  • Horner’s syndrome, a condition in which the lung cancer grows into nerves in the neck, causing a droopy eyelid, small pupil, sunken eye and reduced perspiration on one side of the face
  • Pancoast tumors, which can make a patient’s arms feel painful, numb or weak
  • Difficulty swallowing or pain with swallowing
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Swelling in the face, neck, upper chest wall, breasts
  • Headache, distorted vision, dizziness and drowsiness

Recovery

Lung cancer, like many forms of cancer, is most treatable when detected early. People who smoke or have smoked should have a lung health assessment to determine if they have problems that could lead to lung cancer. Do not wait until breathing becomes difficult.
Patients who smoke should talk to their provider about enrolling in a smoking cessation program.

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