What is lung cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells in the body grow abnormally. When this occurs in one or both of a person's lungs, it is known as lung cancer. If lung cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is still called lung cancer because it started in the lung.

There are three main types of lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the most common type of lung cancer is as non-small cell lung cancer or NSCLC. Approximately 85% of lung cancers are this type. The second most common type (10-15% ) is called small cell or oat cell lung cancer. Fewer than 5% are the rarest type, carcinoid tumors.

Types of lung cancer
Lung Adenocarcinoma

Causes of lung cancer

Smoking or exposure to other people’s smoking are the causes of most lung cancers. Cigarette smoke contains substances known to cause cancer called carcinogens. When you smoke, these carcinogens damage your lungs. The more you smoke, the more the damage increases and cannot be repaired by your body. Eventually, this damage can result in cancer.

It is possible to get lung cancer without ever smoking. In some cases, there may be no obvious cause of lung cancer.

Risk factors for lung cancer

Smoking is the most significant risk factor for lung cancer. Although people who've never smoked can get this type of cancer, smokers have an elevated risk, and it rises for people who smoke for many years and smoke more cigarettes per day. If you smoke, you can reduce your risk by quitting, even if you've smoked for a long time.

Other risk factors include:

  • Having a parent, sibling or child who has had lung cancer
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke from other people smoking
  • Exposure to asbestos, arsenic, chromium, nickel or other carcinogens
  • Exposure to unsafe levels of radon gas inside your home or other building

Symptoms of lung cancer

Most people who get lung cancer don't experience symptoms until the disease has become serious.

Symptoms of advanced lung cancer can include:

  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss
  • Hoarse voice
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain in the bones
  • A persistent new cough
  • A cough that produces even a small amount of blood

Diagnosis of lung cancer

Tests to detect lung cancer include:

  • X-ray — x-rays produce images of the inside of the body, these images can show an abnormal mass, nodule or lesions in your lungs.
  • CT scan — a CT scan is a combination of multiple x-rays and can show more detail inside the body than a single x-ray.
  • Sputum cytology — this test involves an examination by a lab technician of the sputum you produce when you cough.
  • Biopsy — for this test, the doctor collects a small sample of tissue from your lung, lymph nodes or other potentially cancerous parts of your body for analysis.

Treatments for lung cancer

Lung cancer treatments can include:

Surgery
This treatment involves removing all or part of your lung to get rid of diseased tissue. Types of surgery include:

  • Wedge resection — removal of a relatively small part of the lung.
  • Segmental resection — removal of a somewhat larger part of the lung.
  • Lobectomy — removal of an entire section of the lung, called a lobe.
  • Pneumonectomy — removal of an entire lung.

Radiation therapy
This treatment uses high-powered x-rays to destroy diseased tissue. An intense type of radiation known as stereotactic body radiotherapy may treat small lung cancers in people who cannot have surgery.

Chemotherapy
This treatment involves taking drugs either orally or intravenously.

Radiation or chemotherapy might be used alone, together, before surgery to make the cancer smaller or after surgery to try to remove any remaining disease.

Recovery from lung cancer

Over time, cancer cells that remain in your body can cause a recurrence of cancer. That's one reason why it's important to continue to visit your doctor for regular physical exams and tests after you complete your cancer treatment. Tests can help to detect a recurrence before you experience symptoms.

Another reason to see your doctor during your recovery is to better manage side effects you may experience during and after treatment. Examples include pain, tiredness and difficulty breathing. A healthy lifestyle is important for your overall well-being as a lung cancer survivor.

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