(NSCLC; Non-small Cell Lung Cancer; Non-small Cell Bronchogenic Carcinoma; Small Cell Lung Cancer)
DefinitionLung cancer is a disease in which cancer cells grow in the lungs. There are two types of lung cancers:
- Non-small cell lung cancer—generally grows and spreads more slowly (more common form)
- Small cell lung cancer—generally grows more quickly and is more likely to spread to other parts of the body
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CausesCancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.The following can cause damage to the cells in the lungs, leading to lung cancer:
- First- or second-hand smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or pipes
- Exposure to asbestos (a type of mineral) or radon (radioactive gas)
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your chance of lung cancer include:
- Using chewing tobacco
- Being exposed to second-hand smoke
- Being exposed to asbestos or radon
- Having a lung disease, such as tuberculosis
- Having a family or personal history of lung cancer
- Being exposed to certain air pollutants
- Being exposed to coal dust
- Radiation therapy that was used to treat other cancers
- HIV infection
SymptomsSymptoms may include:
- A cough that doesn't go away and worsens over time
- Constant chest pain
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, or hoarseness
- Repeated problems with pneumonia or bronchitis
- Swelling of the neck and face
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
DiagnosisThe doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will also ask about:
- Smoking history
- Substances that you have been exposed to
- Family history of cancer
- Sputum cytology—a test that examines of a sample of mucus from the lungs
- Biopsy —removal of a sample of lung tissue to be tested for cancer cells.
TreatmentThe goal of treatment is to eliminate the cancer and/or control the symptoms.
SurgerySurgery involves removing the tumor and nearby tissue. Lymph nodes may also need to be removed. The type of surgery depends on the location of the tumor, such as:
- Segmental or wedge resection—removal of only a small part of the lung
- Lobectomy —removal of an entire lobe of the lung
- Pneumonectomy—removal of an entire lung
Radiation TherapyRadiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This may also be used to relieve symptoms, such as shortness of breath. External radiation is usually used to treat lung cancer. With this treatment, radiation is directed at the tumor from a source outside of the body.
ChemotherapyChemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. This may be given in many forms, including pill, injection, and via a catheter. Chemotherapy is often used to kill lung cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.
Newer TreatmentsResearchers continue to study ways to treat lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute considers these potential therapies:
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT)—A type of laser therapy. A chemical is injected into the bloodstream. It is then absorbed by the cells of the body. The chemical rapidly leaves normal cells. It will remain in cancer cells for a longer time. A laser aimed at the cancer activates the chemical. This chemical then kills the cancer cells that have absorbed it. This treatment may also be used to reduce symptoms.
- Cryosurgery—A treatment that freezes and destroys cancer tissue.
- Targeted therapy—involves using medications or substances to target certain molecules in the cancer cells
- Immunotherapy—involves using medications or substances made by the body to increase or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer
PreventionTo help reduce your chance of getting lung cancer:
- Do not start smoking. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how to successfully quit .
- Avoid places where people are smoking.
- Test your home for radon gases and asbestos. Have these substances removed if they are in the home.
- Try to avoid or limit occupational exposures, such as working with asbestos.
American Cancer Society
American Lung Association
Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Lung Association
Cancer immunotherapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003013-pdf.pdf. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Lung cancer (non-small cell) American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003115-pdf.pdf. Updated August 15, 2014.
Lung cancer CT screening: is it right for me? American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/lung-cancer/lung-cancer-screening-guidelines/lung-cancer-screening-for-patients.pdf. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Munden RF, Swisher SS, Stevens CW, Stewart DJ. Imaging of the patient with non-small cell lung cancer. Radiology. 2005;237(3).:803.
Non-small cell lung cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 30, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2014.
Non-small cell lung cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/non-small-cell-lung/patient. Updated June 30, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2014..
Targeted cancer therapies. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/targeted. Updated April 25, 2014. Accessed August 15, 2014.
11/12/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: National Cancer Institute. Lung cancer trial results show mortality benefit with low-dose CT. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/pressreleases/NLSTresultsRelease. Accessed August 15, 2014.
- Reviewer: Igor Puzanov, MD
- Review Date: 08/2014
- Update Date: 09/30/2013
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