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Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that can form tumors and impede the function of the lung, which is to provide oxygen to the body via the blood.

Two major types of lung cancer

Non-small-cell lung cancer is the more common form. It usually spreads to different parts of the body more slowly than small-cell lung cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and large-cell carcinoma are three types of non-small-cell lung cancer.

Small-cell lung cancer, also called oat cell cancer, accounts for about 20 percent of all lung cancer and is a fast-growing cancer that forms in tissues of the lung and can spread to other parts of the body.

Primary vs. Secondary Lung Cancer

Primary lung cancer starts in the lungs. Sometimes, people will have cancer from another part of the body travel, or metastasize, to their lungs. This is called secondary lung cancer. Secondary lung cancer is not lung cancer, but rather the type of cancer from its original site, such as breast cancer. Secondary lung cancer will be treated differently than primary lung cancer, because it is a different disease.

The Lungs

Your lungs are a pair of large organs in your chest and are part of your respiratory system. Air enters your body through your nose or mouth then passes through your windpipe and through each bronchus and goes into your lungs.

When you breathe in, your lungs expand with air. This is how your body gets oxygen. When you breathe out, air goes out of your lungs. This is how your body gets rid of carbon dioxide. Your right lung has three sections (lobes). Your left lung is smaller and has two lobes. A thin tissue, the pleura, covers the lungs and lines the inside of the chest. Between the two layers of the pleura is a very small amount of fluid.

Risk Factors

Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. Lung cancer may also be the most tragic cancer because in most cases, it might have been prevented -- 87 percent of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. Smoking cigars or pipes also increases the risk of lung cancer.

If you stop smoking, the risk of lung cancer decreases each year as normal cells replace abnormal cells. After 10 years, the risk drops to a one-third to one-half of the risk for people who continue to smoke. In addition, quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing other smoking-related diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Radon is considered the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. today. Radon gas can come up through the soil homes or buildings and enter through gaps and cracks in the foundation or insulation, as well as through pipes, drains, walls or other openings. Radon causes between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States - 12 percent of all lung cancer deaths are linked to radon.

Other causes of lung cancer include exposure to asbestos, environmental factors or secondhand smoke. Sometimes, a person develops lung cancer and doctors do not know why. There are often internal factors (inherited or from our genes) as well as external or environmental factors (from outside of our bodies) involved in the development of cancer.

Signs and Symptoms
  • Chronic cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing up blood
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever without a known reason
  • Wheezing
  • Repeated bouts of bronchitis or pneumonia
  • Chest pain

These symptoms can also be related to many other lung problems, so a someone with any of these symptoms should see a health care provider to find out the cause.


When a person goes for an exam, the health care provider will ask many questions about personal medical history, including questions about exposure to hazardous substances. The health care provider will also give the patient a physical exam. If the patient has a cough that produces mucus, it may be examined for cancer cells. The health care provider will order a chest X-ray or CT scan to locate any abnormal spots in the lungs. The health care provider may insert a small tube called a bronchoscope through the nose or mouth and down the throat, to look inside the airways and lungs and take a sample, or biopsy, of the tumor. This is just one of several ways a doctor may take a biopsy sample.

If you are diagnosed with cancer, the health care provider will do testing to find out whether the cancer has spread, and, if so, to which parts of the body. This information will help the health care provider plan the most effective treatment. Tests to find out whether the cancer has spread can include a CT scan, an MRI or a bone scan.

What Can You Do?


Find out more by visiting the American Lung Association website. Also visit your health care provider or your local health department for smoking cessation programs in your area.

Self Management

  • If you are a nonsmoker, know your rights to a smoke-free environment at work and in public places. Make your home smoke-free.
  • Test your home for radon.
  • If you are exposed to dusts and fumes at work, ask questions about how you are being protected.
  • If you are a smoker, stop smoking. Your local American Lung Association has books, videos and group programs to help you quit for good.

Tobacco Cessation

The use of tobacco in any form is a great health concern. Even if you don't smoke, reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke. If you use tobacco products, prepare yourself to quit as soon as possible.

  • Set a date to stop and mark it on your calendar. Twenty-four hours before the start date make everyone aware of your goal to stop.
  • Remove the smell of tobacco by cleaning your house and car. Remember to get rid of lighters, ashtrays and matches.
  • You can use over-the-counter aids such as nicotine patches and gum. Contact your health insurance provider to see if Nicotine replacement therapy is a covered service.
  • Know what your triggers are that make you want to use tobacco products and be prepared with chewing gum, celery or carrot sticks.
  • Kentucky has a free Quit Now program that helps you quit using tobacco products. You can contact the Quit Now program at (800) 784-8669.


Last Updated 9/28/2012