Lung cancer is an overgrowth of the abnormal lung cells. These abnormal cells does not function like the usual normal lung cells, and when it grows it can form tumors and interfere with the functioning of the lung.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths. People who smoke have the greatest risk of lung cancer. The other risk factors include:
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Exposure to radon gas
- Exposure to asbestos and other carcinogens
- Family history of lung cancer
When lung cancer progress, it can cause complications such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- Fluid in the chest
- Cancer that spreads in other organs (metastasis)
There are two main types of lung cancer, and knowing which type you have is important because it affects your treatment options and prognosis. It is classified according to the appearance of lung cancer cells under the microscope. These are the:
- Small cell lung cancer. This occurs almost exclusively in heavy smokers and is less common than non-small cell lung cancer.
- Non-small cell lung cancer. This includes the squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma.
A lung cancer is termed a primary cancer, if it originated in the lungs. It is termed secondary lung cancer if it is caused by the spread of cancer cells from other organs.
What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?
Signs and symptoms of lung cancer may include:
- A new cough that doesn’t go away
- Changes in a chronic cough or “smoker’s cough”
- Coughing up blood, even a small amount
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Losing weight without trying
- Bone pain
Symptoms of lung cancer that may occur elsewhere in the body:
- Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
- Muscle wasting (also known as cachexia)
- Headaches, bone or joint pain
- Bone fractures not related to accidental injury
- Neurological symptoms, such as unsteady gait or memory loss
- Neck or facial swelling
- General weakness
- Blood clots
Make an appointment with your doctor if you develop symptoms that concern you.
If your doctor thinks you may have lung cancer, your doctor may recommend:
- Imaging tests. An X-ray image of your lungs may reveal an abnormal mass or nodule. A CT scan can reveal small lesions in your lungs that might not be detected on an X-ray.
- Sputum cytology. If you have a cough and are producing sputum, looking at the sputum under the microscope can sometimes reveal the presence of lung cancer cells.
- Tissue sample (biopsy). A sample of abnormal cells may be removed in a procedure called a biopsy. Your doctor can perform a biopsy in a number of ways, including bronchoscopy, in which your doctor examines abnormal areas of your lungs using a lighted tube that’s passed down your throat and into your lungs; mediastinoscopy, in which an incision is made at the base of your neck and surgical tools are inserted behind your breastbone to take tissue samples from lymph nodes; and needle biopsy, in which your doctor uses X-ray or CT images to guide a needle through your chest wall and into the lung tissue to collect suspicious cells. A biopsy sample may also be taken from lymph nodes or other areas where cancer has spread, such as your liver.
Lung cancer staging
Once your lung cancer has been diagnosed, your doctor will work to determine the extent (stage) of your cancer. Your cancer’s stage helps you and your doctor decide what treatment is most appropriate.
Staging tests may include imaging procedures that allow your doctor to look for evidence that cancer has spread beyond your lungs. These tests include CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and bone scans. Not every test is appropriate for every person, so talk with your doctor about which procedures are right for you.
Stages of lung cancer
- Stage I. Cancer is limited to the lung and hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes. The tumor is generally smaller than 2 inches (5 centimeters) across.
- Stage II. The tumor at this stage may have grown larger than 2 inches, or it may be a smaller tumor that involves nearby structures, such as the chest wall, the diaphragm or the lining around the lungs (pleura). Cancer may also have spread to the nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage III. The tumor at this stage may have grown very large and invaded other organs near the lungs. Or this stage may indicate a smaller tumor accompanied by cancer cells in lymph nodes farther away from the lungs.
- Stage IV. Cancer has spread beyond the affected lung to the other lung or to distant areas of the body.
Small cell lung cancer is sometimes described as being limited or extensive. Limited indicates cancer is limited to one lung. Extensive indicates cancer has spread beyond the one lung.
Medicines for lung cancer mainly involve chemotherapy. Other medicines may be used to help with pain.
Chemotherapy is the most effective treatment for small cell lung cancer. It can help control the growth and spread of the cancer, but it cures lung cancer in only a small number of people. It also may be used to treat more advanced stages of non-small cell lung cancer.
Some of the more common chemotherapy medicines used for lung cancer include the following:
Most chemotherapy causes some side effects. Your doctor may prescribe medicines to control nausea or vomiting.
Chemotherapy may be combined with surgery. It may be given before or after surgery to kill cancer cells.
Medicines for pain
Pain is one of the main concerns of people who have cancer. But cancer pain can almost always be controlled with medicines and other options. Medicines used for cancer pain include prescribed medicines, such as hydrocodone or morphine, or nonprescription medicines, such as aspirin and similar drugs.