WHAT IS LUNG CANCER?
Lung cancer begins when cells in the lung grow out of control and form a tumor. There are two major types of lung cancer: non-small cell and small cell. They are usually treated in different ways.
RISK FACTORS AND PREVENTION:
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors can influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.
The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing lung cancer:
Tobacco. Most lung cancer occurs in people who smoke or in those who have smoked in the past. Tobacco smoke damages cells in the lungs, causing the cells to grow abnormally. The risk that smoking will lead to cancer is higher for people who smoke heavily and/or for a long time. Regular exposure to smoke from someone else’s cigarettes, cigars, or pipes (called environmental or “secondhand” tobacco smoke) can increase a person’s risk of lung cancer, even if that person does not smoke.
ASBESTOS: These are hair-like crystals found in many types of rock and are often used as fireproof insulation in buildings. When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can irritate the lung
RADON: This is an invisible, odorless gas naturally released by some soil and rocks. Exposure to radon has been associated with an increased risk of some types of cancer, including lung cancer
The most important way to prevent lung cancer is to avoid tobacco smoke. People who never smoke have the lowest risk of lung cancer. People who smoke can reduce their risk of lung cancer by stopping smoking, but their risk of lung cancer will still be higher than people who never smoked. Attempts to prevent lung cancer with vitamins or other treatments have not worked. For instance, beta-carotene, a drug related to vitamin A, has been tested for the prevention of lung cancer. It did not reduce the risk of cancer. In people who continued to smoke, beta-carotene actually increased the risk of lung cancer.
Recently, a large study called the National Lung Screening Trial showed that, in patients who are current or former heavy smokers, the use of a screening test called a low-dose helical (or spiral) computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan decreases the risk of death from lung cancer by 20%.
WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF THE LUNGS?
The lungs are made up of five lobes, three in the right lung and two in the left lung. As a person inhales, the lungs absorb oxygen from the air, which is delivered to the rest of the body through the bloodstream. When the body uses the oxygen, carbon dioxide is created. It is carried back to the lungs though the bloodstream and released when a person exhales.
SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS:
People with lung cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes people with lung cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain, if a tumor invades a structure within the chest or involves the lining of the lung
- Loss of appetite
- Coughing up phlegm or mucus
- Hemoptysis (coughing up blood)
WHAT DOES STAGE MEAN?
The stage is a way of describing the cancer, such as where it is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting the functions of other organs in the body. There are five stages for lung cancer: stage 0 (zero) and stages I through IV (one through four). Details about these stages are available at www.cancer.net/lung.
HOW IS LUNG CANCER TREATED?
Lung cancer is always treatable, no matter the size, location, or if the cancer has spread. The treatment options for lung cancer depend on the size and location of the tumor, the type of lung cancer, whether the cancer has spread, and the person’s overall health. There are four basic options to treat lung cancer: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy (treatment that targets specific genes or proteins that contribute to cancer growth). Non-small cell lung cancer is often treated with a combination these approaches. The goal of surgery is the complete removal of the lung tumor with a surrounding border of normal tissue (called the margin) and nearby lymph nodes. Small cell lung cancer is often treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. When making treatment decisions, people may also consider a clinical trial; talk with your doctor about all treatment options. The side effects of lung cancer treatment can often be prevented or managed with the help of your health care team.