Lung Cancer

ExitCare ImageLung cancer is a tumor which starts as a growth in your lungs. Cancer is a group of many related diseases that begin in cells, the building blocks of the body. Normally, cells grow and divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. Sometimes cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed. These extra cells may form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. Tumors can be either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Cancer can begin in any organ or tissue of the body. The original tumor (where the tumor started out) is called the primary cancer and is usually named for where it begins.

Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in men and women. There are several different types of lung cancers. Usually, lung cancer is described as either small-cell lung cancer or non-small-cell lung cancer. Other types of cancer occur in the lungs, including carcinoid and cancers spread from other organs. The types of cancer have different behavior and treatment.


This cancer usually starts when the lungs are exposed to harmful chemicals. When you quit smoking, your risk of lung cancer falls each year (but is never the same as a person who has never smoked).

Other risks include:

  • Radon gas exposure.

  • Asbestos and other industrial substance exposure.

  • Second hand tobacco smoke.

  • Air pollution.

  • Family or personal history of lung cancer.

  • Age over 65.


Lung cancer can cause many symptoms. They depend on the type of cancer, its location and other factors.

Symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • Cough (either new, different or more severe).

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis).

  • Chest pain.

  • Hoarseness.

  • Swelling of the face.

  • Drooping eyelid.

  • Changes in blood tests: low sodium (hyponatremia), high calcium (hypercalcemia) or low blood count (anemia).

  • Weight loss.

In its early stages, lung cancer may not have symptoms and can be discovered by accident. Many of the symptoms above can be caused by diseases other than lung cancer.


In early lung cancer, the patient often does not notice problems. It usually has spread by the time problems are first noticed. Your caregiver may suspect lung cancer based on your symptoms, your exam or based on tests (such as x-rays) obtained for other reasons. Common tests that help your caregiver diagnose your condition include:

  • Chest x-ray.

  • CT scan of the lungs and chest.

  • Blood tests.

If a tumor is found, a biopsy will be necessary to confirm that cancer is present and to determine the type of cancer.


  • Surgery offers a hope for a cure if the cancer has not spread and the cancer is not a small cell (oat cell) cancer of the lung. Surgery cannot cure the small cell type of cancer.

  • Radiation Therapy is a form of high energy X-ray that helps slow or kill the cancer. It is often used along with medications (chemotherapy) to help treat the cancer and control pain.

  • Chemotherapy is used in combination with surgery in advanced cancer. It is also used in all small cell cancers.

  • Many new treatments look promising.

  • Your caregiver can give you more information and discuss treatment options that are best for your type of cancer.


  • If you smoke, stop!

  • Take all medications as told.

  • Keep all appointments with your caregiver and other specialists.

  • Ask your caregiver if you should see a cancer specialist, if that has not been arranged.

  • If you require oxygen or breathing equipment, be sure you know how to use it and who to call with questions.

  • Follow any special diet directions. If you have problems with appetite, ask your caregiver for help.


  • You have had a surgical procedure are you are having trouble recovering.

  • You have ongoing weight loss.

  • You have decreased strength or energy past the point when your caregiver said you would feel better.

  • You develop nausea or lightheadedness.

  • You have pain that is not improving.


  • You cough up clotted blood or bright red blood.

  • Your pain is uncontrolled.

  • You develop new difficulty breathing or chest pain.

  • You develop swelling in one or both ankles or legs, or swelling in your face or neck.

  • You develop new headache or confusion.