Home / Conditions / Lung Cancer

Lung Cancer

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that starts in the lungs. Lung cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the US and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women.

When you breathe, the lungs bring oxygen into the body and take out carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a waste product of the body's cells.

Lung cancer can spread to other parts of the body, most often to the liver, brain, bones and other parts of the lungs, including the outer lining (called the pleura). Cancer from other parts of the body may also spread to the lungs, but it is different from cancer that starts in the lungs.

Back to the top

How does it occur?

Tobacco is linked to most cases of lung cancer. In addition to smoking, factors that increase your risk for lung cancer include exposures to:

Back to the top

What are the symptoms?

Lung cancer grows for a while without causing symptoms. Symptoms may include:

If the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, the symptoms will depend on the area it has spread to.

Back to the top

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your symptoms and examine you. A sample of sputum may show if cancer cells are present. Some of the following tests also will be done:

If X-rays or scans show an area in the lung that does not look normal, a sample of cells can be taken for testing (a biopsy). Biopsies can be done by:

Back to the top

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the type, size and stage of the cancer and your own general health. If you have a single tumor with little or no spread into nearby tissues, surgery is the usual treatment. Surgery is the single best way to cure lung cancer. A part of one lung or a whole lung may need to be removed.

Unless the cancer is very small, chemotherapy for about two months may be recommended after surgery. Chemotherapy is treatment with anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells.

In some cases, chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy may be recommended before surgery or instead of surgery. Radiation is usually given at the same time as chemotherapy but, in some cases, radiation is given after chemotherapy, followed by a bit more chemotherapy. If the cancer has spread outside the lung to the bones or brain, radiation therapy may need to be given to those areas. If it has spread to other parts of the body, chemotherapy alone or biologic therapy is used.

When lung cancer spreads to the outer lining of a lung, fluid may build up in the chest outside the lung and make it hard for the lung to take in air. The fluid can be removed with a needle so you can breathe more easily (a procedure called thoracentesis).

Back to the top

What are the chances of a cure?

Almost one of every six cases of lung cancer is cured (usually with at least surgery).

How can I take care of myself?

Follow your healthcare provider's recommended treatment and keep all your follow-up appointments. To help take care of yourself during your treatment and recovery, follow these guidelines:

Back to the top

What can be done to help prevent lung cancer?

Not all of the causes of lung cancer are known, but following these guidelines can help reduce the risk of some of the more common kinds of lung cancer:

For more information on cancer, contact national and local organizations such as:

American Cancer Society, Inc. Phone: 800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345) Web site: http://www.cancer.org

Cancer Information Service Phone: 800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237) Web site: http://cis.nci.nih.gov.

Back to the top