What is Lung Cancer?

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ung cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States, affecting more than 200,000 persons every year and accounting for almost 30 percent of all cancer deaths each year. Lung cancer refers to the abnormal proliferation of otherwise healthy cells in one or both lungs, creating growths or tumors that can severely reduce a person’s ability to breathe.

Lung cancers are typically divided into two groups: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

SCLC is the most aggressive type of lung cancer; it grows and spreads very rapidly and they tend to be discovered at very advanced stages. SCLC comprises 10 to 15 percent of all lung cancers.

On the other hand, NSCLC is the most common type of lung cancer, found in about 80 to 85 percent of all lung cancer patients. This type of cancer also has several subtypes depending on the type of lung cell it originated from, and it is the most common lung cancer among non-smokers.

Who is at Risk of Developing Lung Cancer?

Contrary to other types of cancers where researchers are not entirely sure of why they form, there is a pretty good understanding of the risk factors associated with lung cancer and how to prevent it in most people.

Smoking

The most common and well-known cause of lung cancer, smoking tobacco is responsible for about 80 percent of lung cancer deaths. It is believed that smoking causes lung cancer – and contributes to many other types of cancer – by damaging healthy cells on the lining of the lungs. As the tissues become increasingly damaged your body tries to repair them, but with repeated exposure to smoke cells that were once healthy begin to behave erratically.

Secondhand Smoke

Unfortunately, non-smokers are also at risk of developing lung cancer if they are continuously exposed to tobacco smoke. In fact, secondhand smoke, or inhaling the smoke of others accounts for more than 7,000 lung cancer deaths every year.

Asbestos

Up until the early 1980s, these minerals were common in American homes in the form of wall linings, roof insulators, paint coatings, etc. However, beginning in the 1930s research studies began circulating about the dangers of asbestos exposure and the increased risk for lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other respiratory conditions. Though asbestos is not used nearly as much today as it was once used, it is still responsible for about four percent of all lung cancer deaths.

Radon

Exposure to radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer for both smokers and non-smokers, and the number one cause of cancer among non-smokers. Radon is a radioactive gas that is tasteless, odorless, and colorless, which makes it hard for people to know when they are being exposed to it.

How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?

Lung cancer is typically diagnosed through an X-ray or other types of imaging tests. Chest X-rays are typically performed when a person goes to the doctor with some form of respiratory complaint, including a persistent cough, shortness of breath, chest or back pain, hoarseness, etc.

A chest X-ray may reveal abnormalities or growths that signal the presence of lung cancer, however, CT scans can pick up smaller lesions that might not be visible on an X-ray. Other ways to diagnose lung cancer include a sputum cytology, which is an analysis of the cells in your sputum (phlegm) to see if there are any cancer cells present, or a biopsy to evaluate abnormal cells from a tumor.

How is Lung Cancer Treated?

Lung cancer treatment depends on many factors, including the stage of the disease, the medical history of the patient, and the type of lung cancer. The following treatments – of a combination of a few of them – are some of the most common procedures to treat lung cancer:

Surgery:

Surgeries to treat lung cancer involve removing parts of the lung where the tumors are localized. Depending on the size and severity of the cancer, doctors may decide to remove parts or even an entire lung.

Chemotherapy:

A common cancer treatment, when a patient undergoes chemotherapy he or she is given for a specific period of time in order to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is sometimes done to wipe out any remaining cancer cells after the tumor has been surgically removed.

Radiation Therapy:

During radiation therapy, X-rays and other kinds of radiation are used to target and kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is usually done in combination to chemotherapy before or after surgery.

Lung Cancer Clinical Trials

Some types of lung cancer can be very aggressive and unresponsive to treatment, which is one of the reasons why researchers conduct clinical trials to test new treatment options. A clinical trial is a voluntary research study designed to test a new medication, procedure, screening test, etc. to assess its safety and effectiveness before it is released to the general public.

Though the medications or interventions in a clinical trial are still at the experimental phase, some individuals decide to enroll in these types of studies because it gives them access to new treatments and specialized medical care before it is available to all patients.

If you or a family member is interested in becoming a lung cancer clinical trial volunteer, contact your doctor or local hospital/university to inquire about any local studies actively recruiting participants.

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