What is Lung Cancer?
Lung cancer happens when abnormal cells grow together and form masses called tumors. Lung cancer typically begins in the bronchi or bronchioles (airways of the lungs) or the alveoli (air sacs). While there are more than 20 forms of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer are most common.
Non-small cell lung cancer makes up about 80 to 85 percent of all cases diagnosed. There are three main types:
- Adenocarcinoma: This type of slow-growing lung cancer begins in the cells that line the alveoli and make substances such as mucus. It is more common in women and occurs more often in younger people than other types of lung cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of lung cancer starts in the flat cells that line the inside of the airways. It is often found in the central part of the lungs and is typically linked to a history of smoking.
- Large cell carcinoma: This type of lung cancer can affect any part of the lung and tends to grow and spread quickly.
Small cell lung cancer accounts for 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers diagnosed. It tends to be fast-growing and spreads more quickly than non-small cell lung cancers. There are two types of small cell lung cancer:
- Small cell carcinoma: This type of lung cancer is also known as oat cell cancer and occurs most often in people who smoke.
- Combined small cell carcinoma: This type of lung cancer occurs most often in adults over age 65 who smoke.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with cancer and the diagnosis, treatment and management of lung cancer. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Lung Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Lung cancer symptoms may include:
- A new cough that doesn’t go away
- Bloody phlegm
- Changes in a chronic cough
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Facial swelling
- Hoarseness or other voice changes
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
- Unintentional weight loss
- Wheezing, high-pitched or abnormal breathing sounds
To determine if someone has lung cancer, we ask about medical history and conduct a physical exam. We also use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures can include:
Biopsy: The physician may remove a sample of abnormal cells during a bronchoscopy, during which a lighted tube is passed down the throat and into the lungs, or by inserting a needle through the chest wall and into the lungs. Or, the physician or surgeon may take a biopsy of nearby lymph nodes by making an incision at the base of the neck.
Imaging tests: Chest X-rays can reveal an abnormal mass. Computerized tomography (CT) scans can reveal small tumors or lesions in the lungs that may not be detected on an X-ray. Learn more about Baptist Health's lung CT screenings.
Sputum cytology: The physician can examine mucus coughed up from the lungs under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
Smoking is the leading cause of non-small cell lung cancer, but not all people who develop the disease are smokers. Lung cancers in non-smokers often have certain gene changes different from those in the tumors of smokers.
Nearly all cases of small cell lung cancer are due to cigarette smoking. It is very rare in people who have never smoked.
Risk factors that can contribute to lung cancer include:
Age: Most lung cancers develop in adults over the age of 50.
Asbestos exposure: Some people exposed to asbestos have developed lung cancer.
Exposure to air pollution: Continuous exposure to pollutants can increase the risk of developing cancer.
Exposure to secondhand smoke: If someone smokes in the home, a person has a greater risk of small cell lung cancer.
Genetics: First-degree relatives of people with lung cancer are at a slightly higher risk.
Occupational exposure: People exposed to radon, uranium, diesel exhaust and certain chemicals may be at an increased risk of lung cancer.
Other cancers: Cancers that begin in other parts of the body can spread to the lungs.
While some risk factors cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help prevent lung cancer.
Don’t smoke: Smoking is a known cause of nearly all lung cancers.
Get screened: Several organizations recommend people with an increased risk of lung cancer consider annual CT scans to look for lung cancer. If you’re 55 or older and smoke or used to smoke, talk to your physician about the benefits and risks of lung cancer screening.
The earlier that lung cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the United States. Prognosis depends on the size and location of the cancer, the type, the presence of symptoms, whether it has spread to other areas of the body and a person’s overall health.
Treatment and Recovery
Lung cancer treatment depends upon how far the condition has progressed, a person’s overall health and his or her preferences. Treatment methods may include:
Surgery is meant to remove all of the lung cancer and a margin of healthy surrounding tissue. If lung cancer is detected at an early stage and has not spread (or has only spread to a couple of adjacent lymph nodes), surgery can be curative.
Chemotherapy uses special drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered as a pill or injected into the bloodstream and may be given before surgery to shrink a tumor, after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells and as a means of reducing symptoms.
This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The radiation may be directed specifically to the lung or administered to various sites throughout the body. Most often, radiation treatments are given five days a week for several weeks.
Certain drugs can treat lung cancer by taking advantage of specific defects in cancer cells that fuel their growth or by targeting genetic mutations.
Lung cancer can recur or spread to other areas of the body, so follow-up care after successful treatment is important. In addition, the cancer itself and some treatments can result in complications. These include:
- Airway obstruction
- Fluid in the chest
- Heart and circulation problems
- Swallowing problems
Next Steps with MyChart
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