There are different types of lung cancer:
- Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer and accounts for 80% to 85% of cases
- Small cell lung cancer (also called oat cell cancer) accounts for 10% to 15% of cases
- Other types of tumors that can form in the lungs include:
- Lung carcinoid tumors, which account for fewer than 5% of lung tumors
- Other lung tumors: adenoid cystic carcinomas, lymphomas, and sarcomas, and benign lung tumors such as hamartomas are rare
- Cancers that originate in other organs such as the breast, pancreas, kidney, or skin can spread (metastasize) to the lungs, but these are not lung cancers
The lung cancer ribbon color is white. A woman named Heidi Onda was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2018, and she felt a keen lack of awareness of lung cancer in the public health discourse. Her desire to increase awareness led her to ask her husband to make her a white ribbon, which quickly became a symbol for awareness, education, and removing the shame of lung cancer.
What Are Symptoms of Lung Cancer?
Early stages of lung cancer may have no symptoms. When symptoms of lung cancer occur, they may include:
- Persistent or worsening cough
- Coughing up blood or rust-colored sputum
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing problems
- Chest pain that may be worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or come back
If lung cancer spreads (metastasizes) to other parts of the body, symptoms may include:
- Bone pain in the back or hips
- Nervous system effects from lung cancer that has metastasized to the brain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) from cancer that spreads to the liver
- Swollen lymph nodes such as those in the neck or above the collarbone
What Causes Lung Cancer?
The main cause of all types of lung cancer is smoking, which accounts for 80% of all lung cancer deaths, as well as a number of deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke. Smokers exposed to radon and asbestos are at higher risk.
In non-smokers, causes of lung cancer include:
- Secondhand smoke exposure
- Air pollution
- Workplace exposure to asbestos, diesel exhaust, or other chemicals
- Exposure to radon
- Genetic changes
How is Lung Cancer Diagnosed?
Symptoms of lung cancer often do not appear until the cancer is advanced. For this reason, The American Cancer Society has lung cancer screening guidelines for people with a higher risk of developing lung cancer, such as smokers.
The American Cancer Society recommends people who are 55 to 74 years old, are in fairly good health, are current smokers or who have quit in the past 15 years, and have smoked a certain number of cigarettes per day should receive regular lung cancer screenings. A test called a low-dose CAT scan or CT scan (LDCT) is typically used.
If lung cancer is suspected, imaging tests may be used to confirm a diagnosis, such as:
- Chest X-ray
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Bone scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
Lab tests used to diagnose lung cancer include:
- Blood tests
- Lung function tests
- Sputum cytology
- Tissue biopsy
- Bronchoscopy masses
- Endoscopic esophageal ultrasound
- Endobronchial ultrasound
- Mediastinoscopy and mediastinotomy
- Molecular tests for gene changes
- Tests for certain proteins on tumor cells
What Is the Treatment for Lung Cancer?
Treatment for lung cancer depends on the stage, and may include:
- Removal of the tumor (stage 0)
- Removal of the lobe of the lung that has the tumor (lobectomy) or removal of a smaller piece of the lung (sleeve resection, segmentectomy, or wedge resection) (Stage 1)
- Lobectomy or sleeve resection or removal of the entire lung (pneumonectomy) (Stage 2 and later stages)
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
- Laser therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)
- Lymph node removal
- Immunotherapy with pembrolizumab (Keytruda), durvalumab (Imfinzi), or pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
- Participation in clinical trials
Stage IV lung cancers have spread widely (metastasized) and can be difficult to treat and cure. Any of the treatments listed above may be used to help patients live longer, but they are unlikely to cure the disease at this late stage.