Cancer - lung
Lung cancer is cancer that starts in the lungs.
The lungs are located in the chest. When you breathe, air goes through your nose, down your windpipe (trachea), and into the lungs, where it flows through tubes called bronchi. Most lung cancer begins in the cells that line these tubes.
There are two main types of lung cancer:
If the lung cancer is made up of both types, it is called mixed small cell/large cell cancer.
If the cancer started somewhere else in the body and spreads to the lungs, it is called metastatic cancer to the lung.
Lung cancer is the deadliest type of cancer for both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined.
Lung cancer is more common in older adults. It is rare in people under age 45.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Close to 90% of lung cancer is related to smoking. The more cigarettes you smoke per day and the earlier you started smoking, the greater your risk for lung cancer. The risk does decrease with time after you stop smoking. There is no evidence that smoking low-tar cigarettes lowers the risk.
Certain types of lung cancer can also affect people who have never smoked.
Secondhand smoke (breathing the smoke of others) increases your risk for lung cancer.
The following may also increase your risk for lung cancer:
Early lung cancer may not cause any symptoms.
Symptoms depend on the type of cancer you have, but may include:
Other symptoms that may also occur with lung cancer, often in the late stages:
These symptoms can also be due to other, less serious conditions, so it is important to talk to your health care provider.
Lung cancer is often found when an x-ray or CT scan is done for another reason.
If lung cancer is suspected, the provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history. You will be asked if you smoke. If so, you'll be asked how much you smoke and for how long you have smoked. You will also be asked about other things that may have put you at risk for lung cancer, such as exposure to certain chemicals.
When listening to the chest with a stethoscope, the provider may hear fluid around the lungs. This may suggest cancer.
Tests that may be done to diagnose lung cancer or see if it has spread include:
In most cases, a piece of tissue is removed from your lungs for examination under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. There are several ways to do this:
If the biopsy shows cancer, more imaging tests are done to find out the stage of the cancer. Stage means how big the tumor is and how far it has spread. Staging helps guide treatment and follow-up and gives you an idea of what to expect.
Treatment for lung cancer depends on the type of cancer, how advanced it is, and how healthy you are:
The above treatments may be done alone or in combination. Your provider can tell you more about the specific treatment you will receive, depending on the specific type of lung cancer and what stage it is.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
How well you do depends mostly on how much the lung cancer has spread.
Call your provider if you have symptoms of lung cancer, particularly if you smoke.
If you smoke, now is the time to quit. If you are having trouble quitting, talk with your provider. There are many methods to help you quit, from support groups to prescription medicines. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke.
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National Cancer Institute website. Non-small cell lung cancer treatment (PDQ) - health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/lung/hp/non-small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq. Updated May 7, 2020. Accessed July 14, 2020.
National Cancer Institute website. Small cell lung cancer treatment (PDQ) - health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/lung/hp/small-cell-lung-treatment-pdq. Updated March 24, 2020. Accessed July 14, 2020.
Silvestri GA, Pastis NJ, Tanner NT, Jett JR. Clinical aspects of lung cancer. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 53.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 2/11/2020
Reviewed By: Mark Levin, MD, Hematologist and Oncologist, Framington, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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