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How Much Do You Know About Lung Cancer?

written by: Tania Cowling • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 5/19/2011

There are many cancers in medicine, however one of the deadliest is cancer of the lung, which affects both sexes. We once believed that smoking was the general cause, but now there are other factors to consider. Read on for general facts about lung cancer that you may not have known.

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    thumbnail According to the National Cancer Institute, a vast number of people are diagnosed with cancer of the lung each year here in the United States. Lung cancer is a disease of malignant neoplasms that can appear in the trachea, bronchi, or air sacs of the lungs. Once thought of a disease amongst men, this cancer is rising in women as well.

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    There are two major types of cancer of the lung: non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. The non-small cell type is most common and mainly associated with a history of smoking. It tends to grow and spread slower than small cell cancer.

    The small cell cancer, also called “oat cell cancer” is less common, but grows quicker and usually spreads to other organs in the body. There are three main types of lung cancer cells: squamous cell or epidermoid carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. Tumors in the lungs can also come from metastasis from cancers in other parts of the body.

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    It has been thought that almost all lung cancer has been caused by smoking, however, today we know that there are other factors as well. With smoking, the more tobacco a person has inhaled, the higher the risk. Tobacco smoke contains a number of chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic. Even cigar and pipe smoking can cause a lung malignancy too.

    Today there have been cases where a person does not smoke, but have developed cancer of the lung from breathing in second- hand smoke. While inhaling second-hand smoke can be prevented, many non-smokers are exposed to it daily at work, school, and home, and this increases their risk of developing lung cancer by 20-30 percent as stated in an article on women’s health by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

    Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon gas is in the ground and can seep through cracks in the foundation of a building or enter through pipes and drains. Radon gas is a radioactive gas that cannot be seen or smelled. There are testing kits for Radon and a wise decision to have homes tested if in doubt of having this gas near you.

    Long-term exposure to uranium, arsenic and some petroleum products put people at risk for lung cancer, and people working with asbestos have a higher risk of developing this cancer as well. The environmental air pollution is a cause needed to be explored by scientists.

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    Signs and Symptoms

    Early stages of lung cancer are tough to diagnose as this disease does not produce many symptoms. When symptoms do appear in later stages, they include smoker’s cough, hoarseness, weight loss, wheezing, chest pains, dyspnea (breathing difficulty), and hemoptysis (coughing up blood). If you have these symptoms or frequently get bouts of pneumonia or bronchitis, it’s best to be evaluated by a physician as soon as possible. Early detection is the key to survival.

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    Evaluations Leading to Diagnosis

    Most doctors will order a chest x-ray first to evaluate for lung tumor growth. If anything unusual is seen, they will proceed to CT scans, MRI, sputum cytology (from coughed up mucus), and brochoscopy (which uses a thin, lighted tube to view and collect a tissue sample for biopsy.

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    Treatment of lung cancer usually involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. It is a tough cancer to treat because it easily spreads to other organs sometimes before it is originally diagnosed. Metastasis to the liver, brain, and bone is common. The chance of survival has improved for non-small cell lung cancer because of these combination treatments.

    Prevention is the key to avoid getting this cancer-killer. Don't smoke and if you do smoke now, seek treatment to quit. Stay away from second-hand smoke and other pollutants in the environment as much as possible and keep healthy with plenty of good food (fruits and vegetables) that will provide your body with antioxidants. Only you can be in control of your own body!

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    Facts About Lung Cancer: Illinois Department of Public Health -

    Fast Facts on Lung Cancer: Lung Cancer Cases Are on the Rise Among Women (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute - Copyright 2010

    Diseases of the Human Body (Fourth Edition) by Carol D. Tamparo & Marcia A. Lewis [F.A. Davis Company, 2005]

    Help Quit Smoking - 1-800-QUIT-NOW

    Radon Information -